WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Former Midwest Academy Owner : "I walked away from the school with nothing."

Dec 6, 2017

The former owner of Midwest Academy said the shuttered boarding school near Keokuk has no money and no assets. Ben Trane said he had to sign everything over to his landlord shortly after the school closed in early 2016.

Trane made his comments during a debtor’s examination conducted by Curtis Dial, who is the lawyer for Cheyenne Jerred. Jerred sued the school, claiming she was fired for being a whistleblower.

A judge ruled against Midwest Academy, ordering the school to pay Jerred nearly $750,000. Trane was named in the original lawsuit but was later removed.

Early on in the hearing, Trane questioned his participation since he is no longer associated with Midwest Academy. He asked if he had the right to turn over documents related to the school.

Trane eventually handed Dial a stack of papers he described as bank statements and tax records. He said the bank statements were from Pilot Grove Savings Bank, the only bank he worked with during his time at Midwest Academy, but that all the accounts were empty.

“All assets that Midwest Academy had were signed over according to the lease,” Trane told Dial.

“I walked away from the school with nothing.”

Midwest Twister

The owner of the building where Midwest Academy operated, as well as the surrounding land, is Midwest Twister, a company based in Utah. The company owns another plot of land near the school as well.

Bob Lichfield, the owner of Midwest Twister, said in court documents filed as part of Jerred’s lawsuit that his company had nothing to do with the school’s ownership, management, operation, or finances.

Trane said during the hearing that Midwest Academy was behind in its rent. He said once the school closed -- following the January 2016 raid by local, state and federal agents -- he had to sign over all assets to Midwest Twister and another company associated with Lichfield.

“You could subpoena them,” said Trane in regard to additional financial documents related to Midwest Academy that Dial requested.

Dial also asked Trane about assets such as furniture and computers from the school.

“I got locked out of the school days after the closing,” said Trane. “It is all still there.”

Trane told Dial some families owed Midwest Academy for tuition and other expenses. He said the school did not kick out students just because their families were late with payments.

At the end of the hearing, Trane asked Dial if the records he provided would be kept private.

“I have had enough private stuff put out there.”

Cheyenne Jerred

Jerred sat directly across from Trane during the debtor’s examination in the second floor jury room in the south Lee County Courthouse in Keokuk.

She was 20 years old when she was hired at Midwest Academy in early 2015 as a night supervisor for the female students.

Jerred said she was there to make sure the students did not try to run away or harm themselves. She said eventually one of the students came to her with a criminal complaint.

“I had a student report sexual abuse allegations to me,” said Jerred. “I reported that to [the Department of Human Services]. When it brought up to the public that I reported to DHS, I was fired a few days later.”

Jerred said she described the allegations in as much detail as possible to the state agency, including naming Trane as the abuser. She said she did not think twice about reporting the allegations.

“I’m just doing anything I would have wanted somebody to do if I was in that position,” said Jerred. “I’m glad that if there was something going on, that they have looked into it and are doing something about it.

“I’m just glad somebody was there, able to speak up, and get them out of that situation.”

Jerred said she made the call to DHS in late 2015. A little more than a month later, the school was raided and the students were removed.

She said she hopes her lawsuit is resolved soon. Her attorney said the next step is to possibly subpoena financial records from Midwest Twister and Bob Lichfield.

Jerred said she plans to attend Trane’s criminal trial, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday, December 12 in Keokuk. Trane has pleaded not guilty to sexual and child abuse charges.