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Iowa's governor comments on Keokuk boarding school under investigation

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Iowa Governor Terry Branstad tours a newly renovated room in an apartment complex that used to be Fort Madison Middle School. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad tours a newly renovated room in an apartment complex that used to be Fort Madison Middle School.
FORT MADISON, Ia. (WGEM) -

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad visited Fort Madison Wednesday night. During a tour at an old school that's been turned into an apartment complex, he answered questions about Keokuk's Midwest Academy, which remains under investigation following sexual abuse allegations.

Branstad says he's open to more state oversight as Iowa lawmakers consider new standards and regulations for boarding schools.

Meanwhile, there's now a new issue for former employees at the school, which has been closed for more than a month. Don Clifford says he and some other former employees want answers after they've been stiffed on their pay.

"Everybody that I've talked to, nobody has gotten their last paycheck," Clifford said.

Clifford said employees were supposed to pick up or get their last paycheck or get direct deposit in the middle of February. 

"People showed up to pick up the check and it wasn't there," Clifford said. "They were told it would possibly be taken care of by Tuesday."

Clifford says he and other employees have repeatedly called owner Ben Trane, who's been named a suspect in the ongoing sexual abuse investigation at the boarding school. Clifford claims Trane and other administrators have changed their numbers and moved out of town.  After some digging, employees called the boarding school's payroll company, RMI out Salt Lake City Utah. That's when Clifford says a company representative dropped a bombshell.

"I was told that Mr. Trane had shut down the payroll account the day after the Department of Criminal Investigation came in and raided the place," Clifford said.

The move adds more insult to injury at a school already at the center of a multi-agency investigation. During a visit to Fort Madison Wednesday, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad weighed in. 

"We need to find out what happened, and we need to take action to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again," Branstad said. 

It's an eye-opener for Iowa lawmakers, and with no state oversight, they're now considering new standards at boarding schools, which Governor Branstad is open to.  

"This was not an accredited facility," Branstad said. "So, they did not have accreditation from the board of education."

Lawmakers' independent investigation could take months, and does nothing for employees like Don Clifford still waiting to get paid. 

"I'm not holding my breath," Clifford said. "With things disintegrating the way that they have been, I just don't think it's going to happen."

Employees were also told that owner Ben Trane is still trying to liquidate items from the school in order to get money to pay employees. But, after five weeks, they still haven't heard back from anyone.

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