Boarding school owner abused, sexually exploited teens under his care: Police

The owner of a now-shuttered private boarding school pressured a teenager into sex, forced girls to undress for “body image therapy” and held other students in solitary confinement, authorities say.

Prosecutors on Friday charged Benjamin Trane, the former director of Midwest Academy, with third-degree sexual abuse, sexual exploitation by a counselor and child endangerment, as reported by WQAD.

State and federal law enforcement investigated the alleged abuse for 19 months at the for-profit school in southeastern Iowa.

The school had enrolled approximately 100 students who hailed from around the country before it closed in January 2016 when authorities executed a series of search warrants.

Trane, 39, allegedly abused his authority at the school to seek sexual relationships with the female students.

He is accused of pressuring one girl to engage in multiple sex acts with him in 2015 “in order for her to successfully participate and ‘level up’ in the program and to be able to contact her family members,” court records state.

In addition, Trane held so-called counseling sessions that purportedly taught “body image therapy” where the girls would take off their clothes, stand at mirror and talk about their bodies.

He had sexually explicit conversations with the teens, required that they complete written surveys about sex and touched some “for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification and attempted grooming,” documents show.

Trane also is accused of holding teens in solitary confinement for days or even weeks.

Kennedy Thayer, who attended the academy in 2015, told the Associated Press that she was glad Trane has been charged.

“He might finally understand a little bit of what we went through,” said Thayer, now a college student. “But jail is nothing compared to that place. It was horrible.”

Thayer said she remembered Trane talking about her body, taking her and her peers to shop for lingerie at Victoria’s Secret and requiring them to answer questions about their sexual fantasies and histories.

She told her mother about Trane’s actions, prompting the mom to complain.

“He flipped out and said, ‘you can’t do things like that because I can make you stay longer’,” Thayer told the news organization.

Trane told the court he is now unemployed and has been living in Idaho. He has multiple children and is married.

Some former students have sued Trane seeking money for the mistreatment. Their lawyer, David Ferleger, said the criminal case support the teens’ claims of abuse at the school, which charged $5,000 every month.

“It’s a great blessing for the kids that the FBI and state police took it over and freed them from this awful abuse,” Ferleger said.

Trane is being held at the Lee County Jail on $500,000 cash bond.

[Featured Image: Lee County Sheriff’s Office]