SIOUX CITY -- A former Sioux Center Christian school teacher will remain in federal custody on child sexual exploitation and pornography charges.
At a hearing late Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Sioux City, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly Mahoney said the lengthy time period in which the alleged offenses occurred, the numerous victims and their age combined to convince her that the community was not safe if Curtis Van Dam were allowed to be released in advance of his trial.
"That's just an incredibly serious offense," Mahoney said during the hearing, which was moved to the larger of the federal building's two courtrooms to accommodate the approximately 35 people who came to watch.
Van Dam was arrested Friday at his Sioux Center home and pleaded not guilty to single counts of sexual exploitation of a child and possession of child pornography. His trial was scheduled for April 2.
Sexual exploitation carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years. The child pornography possession charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
Van Dam also is charged in Sioux County District Court on 146 state charges related to inappropriate sexual contact with at least 13 children between August 2014 and this past October. He was free on bond since December until his arrest on Friday. He had not violated any terms of his release, his attorney, Stuart Dornan, of Omaha, said Monday in arguing for his release from custody and placement on pretrial supervision.
The federal charges against Van Dam, filed under seal Thursday and unsealed Friday after his arrest, accuse him of making a video or videos for his own sexual gratification.
Tim Duax, chief of the U.S. Attorney's Sioux City bureau, presented two minutes of video Monday showing Van Dam setting up a video camera inside a mesh gym bag and pointing it toward a locker room shower. Duax did not show the remainder of the video, which he said showed numerous young boys enter the locker room, undress and shower. Duax said the boys' naked bodies were visible in the video, which was found on Van Dam's laptop computer during the investigation.
Van Dam was arrested Oct. 23 after the parents of an 11-year-old boy reported that Van Dam had had sexual contact with their son, Sioux Center police officer Mike Halma testified Monday. Halma said that 15 boys have reported incidents, five of them alleging that Van Dam had physical contact with them. Halma said Van Dam's laptop contained two videos, which showed minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
Administrators at Sioux Center Christian School removed Van Dam, who taught fifth grade, from the school after the initial complaint was filed. They fired him after additional charges related to incidents with other children were filed.
Some or all of the children were under age 12 or 13, and the incidents took place at various locations, including the school, where Van Dam taught for nine years. He also coached seventh- and eighth-grade boys basketball. Van Dam is accused of sexually abusing or having inappropriate contact with some of the children on at least 24 separate occasions over several months.
State charges accuse Van Dam of having children fully or partially undress in front of him, permitting children to touch his genitals and exposing himself to some of the children.
In an interview Monday, Duax said prosecuting child sexual exploitation is a priority of the U.S. Justice Department, and task forces focusing on internet sharing of child pornography continually investigate possible crimes.
Duax said there was no internet sharing in Van Dam's case, so federal task forces were unaware of his actions. The Sioux County Attorney's Office notified the U.S. Attorney of the allegations against Van Dam, Duax said.
Instances of sexual abuse may not always meet federal statutes and fall under federal jurisdiction, Duax said. Cases in which videos or photos are present, such as Van Dam's case, most often can fall under federal jurisdiction, and the offender may be prosecuted under federal statutes.
Van Dam still may be prosecuted under Iowa statutes in Sioux County District Court for the numerous sexual abuse and lascivious acts with a child charges filed against him. Sioux County Attorney Thomas Kunstle said Monday he has no plans to dismiss the state case in deference to the federal charges, a practice that sometimes takes place. Van Dam is scheduled to stand trial March 6 in Sioux County.
"I fully intend to prosecute his state criminal charges," Kunstle said.
He said there has been no decision on whether the state or federal case will be tried first. The trial order would be coordinated between his office and the U.S. Attorney, Kunstle said.