WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Judge Sentences Former Boarding School Owner to Maximum Prison Sentence

May 11, 2018

A judge sentenced Ben Trane to the maximum penalty possible for the crimes he was convicted of committing while in charge of Midwest Academy, a now-shuttered Lee County-based boarding school for troubled teens.

A jury found Trane guilty in December of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, sexual exploitation by a counselor or therapist, and child endangerment.

Trane was accused of sexually abusing a female Midwest Academy student several times and of forcing two male former Midwest Academy students to spend excessive amounts of time in isolation rooms at the school.

The school was shut down and the students were removed in January 2016 following a raid by local, state, and federal law enforcement.

More than 30 supporters of Ben Trane wore grey ribbons to show their support for him during the sentencing.
Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR

District Court Judge Mark Kruse ordered Trane to serve 9 years in prison (5 years for sexual exploitation/2 years each for assault with intent and child endangerment). The sentences are to be served consecutively and parole is a possibility.

In addition, Kruse ordered Trane to:

  • Receive 10 years court supervision upon his release from prison
  • Register as a sex offender
  • Pay a $250 civil penalty (court waived roughly $2,700 in fines due to Trane being considered indigent)
  • Pay $5,000 in legal fees (court capped the fees due to Trane being considered indigent)
  • Submit a sample for DNA profiling

Kruse also established a No Contact Order prohibiting Trane from having any contact with the female student who accused Trane of sexually abusing her. The order is for 5 years.

Kruse said he considered many factors in making his ruling: the pre-sentencing investigation report, the victim impact statements provided in court, the more than 80 letters the court received supporting Trane, and Trane’s statement to the court during Thursday’s sentencing hearing.

“It was a very difficult decision,” said Kruse, adding that he considered Trane’s wife and five children in decidng the sentence. “I did take into account your family very significantly… I just wish you had.”

“It is of the utmost, serious nature, your acts against very troubled and vulnerable young people, one that merits serious consequences,” said Kruse. “This is done while they trusted you and were totally reliant on you. This is something that cannot be tolerated.”

Trane (R) meeting with his attorney, Alfredo Parrish of Des Moines, during Trane's sentencing hearing.
Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR

TRANE STATEMENT

Kruse allowed Trane to make a statement prior to issuing the sentence. Trane spoke for more than 20 minutes, looking at the judge at times and looking into the audience in the courtroom as well.

Trane talked about his passion for helping turn around the lives of children who he described as the bottom 5% of kids and reunite with their families. He said Midwest Academy was difficult for them because it provided structure and discipline.

Trane said the students who showed up at Midwest Academy were the types of students who shoot up schools, who overdose on drugs, who kill others or themselves. He said it was his life’s work to try to turn around their lives, touting stories of Midwest Academy students attending colleges and living productive lives.

Trane also vehemently denied the allegations against him.

“I tell you with all sincerity of my heart that I have never abused a child,” said Trane. “I have never sexually abused a child. I have spent my whole career stopping that from happening.”

Trane said the staff at Midwest Academy was trained to contact law enforcement or the state if there was an accusation involving a student, and pointed out the staff immediately called to report the allegations against him, the owner.

Trane also addressed the three students directly involved in his criminal case, mentioning them by their initials. Trane said no other school would take the three of them so they ended up at Midwest Academy.

At one point, Trane looked directly at the mother of one of the young boys kept in isolation rooms and said he loved her son. Trane’s attorney then whispered something to Trane, who then turned back towards the judge and moved on to a new topic.

Later on, Trane described the female student who made the sexual abuse accusations as extremely smart, but he also claimed that she had made sexually-based allegations against family members and others.

“She knew the system,” said Trane. “She knew exactly going to these places with the sexual abuse of what to say, she told me what grooming was. She knew all of this. She told me that if I ever did anything she didn’t like, she would make allegations like this. She told other girls she was going to do this.”

Trane testified Thursday during his attempt to gain a new trial. The motion was denied and he was sentenced to 9 years in prison.
Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR

Kruse referenced Trane’s statement during his reading of Trane’s sentence.

“Nothing you said here today gives the court any confidence that things will change for you,” said Kruse. “Your statement here today, you switched the tables. People who are the victims are now victimizing you -- and you are re-victimizing them with your statements today.”

VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENTS

The court did receive two victim impact statements during the sentencing hearing.

The first came from the mother of one of the young boys who was kept in isolation for much of his time at Midwest Academy.

She spoke of how Trane promised to keep her son safe, but now he cannot even talk about his time at the boarding school. She said it was not Midwest Academy but rather a school closer to her home that is helping her son succeed.

The second was a prepared statement from the female student who accused Trane of sexual abuse. It was read to the court by an advocate.

In her statement, the student wrote about how she has spent the last two years trying to figure out: why her?

“Was it how I spoke to him, the way I looked at him, the way I acted?” the student asked in the letter. “I have gone over and over again what I did that made him think it was OK to do what he did and what I could do to make sure that no one has the urge to do this to me again.”

The student also told the court how she has tried to change her appearance, losing 40 pounds, or roughly 1/3 of her body weight, in the past two years.

“I am at least certain that no man will look at me the same way that Ben did and that no man will have the same urges that Ben did that led him to hurt me.”

She said she also had trouble dealing with authority figures and adult males as a result of her time at Midwest Academy.

APPEAL

Trane was taken into custody by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office following the sentencing hearing. But his attorney said his time in custody would be brief.

Alfredo Parrish said Trane would be able to post $5,000 bail Friday, which would allow him to be free while his case is being appealed, a process Parrish said could take up to 18 months to complete. Parrish said the judge allowed Trane to transfer the previous bond, which allowed him to be out of jail prior to his trial, to pay the new appeal bond.

The court also chose to lift Trane’s travel restriction, allowing him to leave the state of Iowa and return to his home in Idaho, where he was living prior to his arrest.

Parrish said he’s confident the Iowa Court of Appeals or the Iowa Supreme Court will grant Trane a new trial. He sought a new trial prior to the sentencing hearing, but his request was denied by Judge Mark Kruse.

Parrish argued for hours Thursday that the new trial was warranted, claiming prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective defense counsel, and questionable rulings by the court itself. At one point, he even asked Kruse to recuse himself, a request Kruse denied.