WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Trane Sentencing Scheduled; Judge Blocks Some Letters of Support from Public View

Feb 8, 2018

The former owner of Midwest Academy will be sentenced on May 10. Ben Trane was convicted in December of child endangerment, sexual exploitation by a counselor, and assault with intent to commit sexual abuse.

The charges come from his time in charge of the boarding school for troubled teens, which closed in January 2016 following a raid by local, state, and federal law enforcement agents amid abuse allegations.

District Court Judge Mark Kruse this week set the date for the hearing. He said he would also use the May 10 court proceedings to consider Trane's request for a new trial, based on the court’s understanding that such a request would soon be filed, adding the hearing(s) could last the entire day.

The sentencing hearing was originally scheduled for March 12, but was delayed at the request of both the prosecution and the defense. Assistant Iowa Attorney General Denise Timmins said she would be out of the state and Trane’s new attorney, Alfredo Parrish of Des Moines, said he needed time to prepare.

Trane faces up to nine years in prison, though his friends and family are trying to convince the court to show leniency, suggesting probation instead of incarceration.

They are making their requests through letters to Judge Kruse, who presided over Trane’s criminal trial in December.  The court has received more than 25 so far from:

  • Former Midwest Academy students
  • The parents of former Midwest Academy students
  • Trane’s family members
  • People who know Trane from church or other community organizations

The letters provide examples of Trane’s generosity and his passion for helping troubled teens. They also state that he has never inflicted harm or engaged in inappropriate behavior.

Among those writing a letter was Layani Trane, Ben Trane’s wife and the mother of their five children. In her letter, which you can read here, she described her husband as being “honest, genuine, loyal, true and charitable.”

“These are just a few of the reason I married him,” wrote Layani Trane.

She went on to say her husband is “Honest in his efforts, through his actions and words. He is genuine good person.”

She also wrote, “He has spent his days loyal to his family, school and the community. He is true to his word. He is charitable when people ask for things he tries to do more than just the bare minimum for all in need.” She goes on to provide specific instances of his generosity.

She also addressed her testimony during her husband’s criminal trial, where she had trouble answering questions and seemed to struggle to find the proper words at times.

“On the stand, I’m sure you can understand I was nervous,” wrote Layani. “I didn’t convey things exactly how I had hoped. I have some guilt that maybe I didn’t do a good job and that could have added to the verdict. I think it’s apparent that I believe Ben is innocent… If you could please consider a lighter sentence, I believe he would do much good with it.”

The letters are included in the official court file, which can be viewed by the public online or in the north or south Lee County Courthouses.

Judge Kruse, though, ruled this week that some of the letters will be removed from public view because they reveal the identity of the former Midwest Academy student who accused Ben Trane of sexual abuse.

Letters obtained by Tri States Public Radio show instances in which the writer attempts to provide Judge Kruse with details or opinions about the accuser that were not mentioned in court. TSPR obtained them prior to this week’s order from Judge Kruse.

Victim impact statements will be given during Trane’s sentencing hearing.