A verdict was reached Sept. 13 in the case of Benjamin Work, a former West Harrison teacher who had inappropriate contact with students.
Work was found guilty on all 16 charges, which include five counts of sexual exploitation by a school employee, a Class D felony; six counts of lascivious conduct with a minor, a serious misdemeanor; and two counts of indecent contact with a child, an aggravated misdemeanor.
Work is scheduled for his sentencing hearing on Oct. 20 at the Harrison County Courthouse following a presentence investigation,
A bench trial concluded July 18 in the Harrison County District Court, and Judge Margaret Reyes submitted her ruling Sept. 13.
According to a court document detailing the ruling on the bench trail, the trial took place June 6 and 7, with the state being represented by Harrison County Attorney Jennifer Mumm and Work being represented by attorney Michael Winter.
Several witnesses, including eight victims, testified over the course of the trial.
The findings of fact outline Work's history as a music teacher at West Harrison Community School District.
"(Work) had both classroom duties as well as responsibility for extracurricular activities such as marching band, choir and school plays," the document reads. "During the 2021-2022 school year, (Work) directed a middle school play in the fall semester... and a high school play in the spring semester... (Work) created at least some of the students' costumed for the plays himself."
In April 2022, the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) interviewed Work at his home after the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the Harrison County Sheriff's Office received a criminal complaint regarding Work having an inappropriate relationship with a minor student.
During the interview, Work confirmed his teaching duties and acknowledged that he designed costumes for the high school play, which consisted of corseted top that tied up in the back.
He told investigators that he set up a changing room at the school, and took measurements of female students for their costumes, though he denied he ever watched them change.
When Work was asked if he ever measured the students without their shirt or bras on, he said he "did not like where the questioning was going," and was seen on video "retching over a trashcan" during the interview.
Investigators found a camera with an SD card on Work's desk at school, which had a recording of a female student changing into a costume in the changing room Work had set up.
Work was also asked about the 2021 middle school play, where he again told investigators he took the students' measurements, and said most of the costumes were purchased "off the rack." He denied a fitting was necessary for students who wore their own personal, pajama costumes for the play.
When Work was asked if he ever took measurements of the students with their tops removed, he said he "did not recall."
That same day, Work was placed on administrative leave by the West Harrison School District. Six minor students that Work had “inappropriate contact with between the fall of 2021 and spring of 2022” were identified by law enforcement during the investigation.
On June 3, 2022, Work resigned from his teaching position at West Harrison.
Work entered a not guilty plea and waived his right to a jury trial.
During the testimonies at the bench trial, West Harrison School Principal Casey Ring testified that as a mandatory reporter, she was "legally obligated" to report on allegations made against Work, which she was made aware of after another teacher reported they had heard a student talking about Work's inappropriate behavior.
Ring said Work would ask her if it were appropriate for him to ask students to babysit for him, and also requested for female chaperones during any field trips involving female students.
Ring testified that she often asked if Work needed assistance with any plays, and was unaware of how much Work was involved in creating costumes for the students.
Eight victims testified at the trial, each detailing any inappropriate contact they had with Work.
All corroborated that Work had taken their measurements for their costume fittings during multiple occasions; touched them inappropriately, making them feel "uncomfortable" during the fittings and during school hours; would make sexual innuendos and remarks in class in front of students; talked to students about his personal life; and encouraged his students to confide in him about personal information.
The victims testified that they were afraid to report Work's behavior due to his teacher status and because he was "well-liked" amongst the school population.
One of the victims was also identified as the student Work filmed in the changing room, which she was unaware that he had done.
Also involved in the testimony was Rebecca Masat, a pediatric and adolescent therapist, who discussed the signs of grooming and child sexual abuse.
Work did not testify at the trial.
According to the conclusions of law section of the document, Judge Reyes found that the state met is burden of proof, and ultimately found Work guilty on all 16 criminal counts.