District Court Judge John Linn, Tuesday, rejected the prosecution’s request to move the trial of Ben Trane out of south Lee County. Trane is accused of child and sexual abuse during his time as owner and operator of Midwest Academy.
The boarding school near Keokuk closed in early 2016 after local, state and federal agents raided the school and removed the students amid abuse allegations.
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting Trane.
Assistant AG Denise Timmins asked the court for a change of venue over concerns that it would be difficult to seat a fair and impartial jury. She cited extensive media coverage, prior to and after the closing of the school, and the school’s connection to the community, listing several former MA employees including former Keokuk School Board President Tyler McGhghy and Keokuk Alderman-Elect Devon Dade.
Linn stated in his ruling that “the court is unable to conclude that such degree of prejudice exists in south Lee County, Iowa, that there is a substantial likelihood a fair and impartial trial cannot be preserved to the state of Iowa with a jury selected in south Lee County.”
He also mentioned that Trane, who has pled not guilty to the charges against him, argued against the change of venue.
Trane’s trial is scheduled to get underway Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 9:00 A.M. It is scheduled to last six days.
In anticipation of the trial, the Lee County Board this week increased the spending limit on the county-issued credit card for County Attorney Clinton Boddicker from $1,000 to $10,000.
Boddicker said the increase is temporary, until the trial is complete. He said the additional spending authority is needed to pay for travel and lodging for witnesses in Trane’s trial.
Boddicker said even though the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations is leading the investigation and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office is handling the prosecution, the case originated in Lee County and thus Lee County is on the hook for the witness expenses.
He told the county board that the AG’s office has told him it will try to hold down expenses related to its witnesses. Previous court filings stated that witnesses would be driving long distances or flying in for the trail.
Boddicker said once the trial is over, the spending authority on the credit card would be returned to $1,000.
Meanwhile, Ben Trane will be back in court in Keokuk prior to his criminal trial on Dec. 12. A hearing on his finances is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 4.
At issue is the result of a whistleblower lawsuit filed against Midwest Academy, which Trane owned and operated in Lee County.
A former employee, Cheyenne Jerred, said she lost her job at Midwest Academy because she came forward with allegations that Trane sexually assaulted a female student at the school.
Trane argued that Jerred was fired for failing to follow policies regarding interactions with students.
District Court Judge Mary Ann Brown, in March, issued a default judgment in favor of Jerrad, eliminating the need for a scheduled jury trial. Jerrad was later awarded nearly $750,000.
Trane has previously testified that he has no income. He is currently staying in an apartment in rural Lee County as he awaits his criminal trial.