Ben Trane sat inside the 2nd floor courtroom of the south Lee County Courthouse, Monday morning, wearing a brown Lee County Jail jumpsuit and shackles. He was there to request the court release him from police custody while his criminal case proceeds.
Trane owned Midwest Academy, a Lee County-based boarding school for troubled teens. It shut its doors in early 2016 following a raid by local and state law enforcement agencies amid allegations of sexual abuse of students.
Special Agent Joe Lestina with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation filed three criminal complaints against Trane in August 2017.
- Sexual Abuse (3rd Degree) – Class D Felony
- Sexual Exploitation by a Counselor or Therapist – Class D Felony
- Child Endangerment – Aggravated Misdemeanor
Lestina's complaints state that Trane:
- Forced a female student at Midwest Academy to perform sexual acts with him on multiple occasions. "Defendant exercised control of [the student] through his position of owner and director of the school, as [the student's] family representative and point of contact in the program and as [the student's] counselor," per the criminal complaint. "On multiple occasions, Defendant performed sexual acts on [the student] including, but not limited to digital vaginal penetration, oral sex and sexual intercourse."
- Had female students undress in front of him during counseling sessions on body image and either had sexual conversations with them or had physical contact with them. "These acts were done for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification and attempted grooming," said Lestina in the complaint.
- Employed harmful training methods at the school, including extended periods of solitary confinement. "The Defendant implemented and enforced policies and maintained an environment which created a substantial risk to the students' physical, mental or emotional health and/or safety," said Lestina.
Lestina said the claims against Trane allegedly occurred between Sept. 2014 and Jan. 2016. Trane turned himself in at the Lee County Jail in Sept. 2017, where he has remained on a $500,000 cash only bond.
Monday morning’s hearing was a review of Trane’s bond.
The state argued, during the hearing, that the amount of the bond is justified because Trane is a flight risk. Assistant Iowa AG Denise Timmins said Trane has no ties to southeast Iowa, adding that his wife and children live in Idaho and he has other family members in Utah.
Timmins also said the nature of the crimes justify a larger than normal cash only bond in answering a question from District Court Judge Michael Schilling. The Iowa Judicial Branch’s Uniform Bond Schedule states that Class D Felonies warrant a bond of $5,000.
Trane’s attorney, Lisa Schaefer of Burlington, argued that Trane does not have the financial resources to post the bond as currently imposed. She also said that Trane is not a flight risk.
“If he wanted to avoid the charges, he could have done that from the beginning,” said Schaefer. “Instead, he turned himself in when he learned of the charges.”
Schaefer said Trane would like the court to release him from the Lee County Jail with supervision. She said if that is not an option, Trane would request a smaller bond and allow him to pay a portion of it for his release, compared to a cash-only bond.
Trane testified during the hearing that he has no income and that if he were to be released with supervision, he would live in an apartment in rural Lee County that is now owned by family friends. Trane is quite familiar with the complex, having sold it in March 2016, a couple months after the raid that shut down Midwest Academy. Trane told the court that he would do his best to pay rent while out on supervision.
Judge Schilling said at the end of the hearing that he did not like to rule from the bench. He said, instead, he would review the evidence and issue a ruling in the next 2-3 days.