SIOUX CITY -- Former Sioux Center Christian school teacher Curtis Van Dam was sentenced Wednesday to the statutory minimum of 15 years in federal prison for secretly filming naked middle school boys in a locker room.
Federal sentencing guidelines recommended a sentence ranging from 24 years up to the statutory maximum of 30 years, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Duax said the lesser sentence is significant and achieved a larger goal.
"One of the main drivers, if not the main driver, is that it does not require any of the victims to testify," Duax told U.S. District Judge Leonard Strand, who had noted that the sentence, jointly recommended by Duax and defense attorney Stuart Dornan in a plea agreement, fell below the recommended guidelines. "Fifteen years in federal prison is a substantial penalty. This sends a message to the community."
After the hearing, Duax said he communicated with the victims' parents at every step in the case and they were agreeable to the sentence.
"They were fine with this resolution," he said. "They were in agreement that this is the way it should be done."
Van Dam, 36, declined his chance to speak at the hearing, which drew approximately 55 people, roughly half of the total that attended the June hearing in which Van Dam pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a child.
Those who attended Wednesday's hearing in U.S. District Court in Sioux City showed little visible reaction while Van Dam was led out of the courtroom at the hearing's conclusion. Outside the courtroom, a few hugged one another and dabbed at tears in their eyes.
Police investigating claims that Van Dam had inappropriate contact with children found two videos on a laptop computer last fall. Duax said the videos showed seven minors. Because Van Dam was seen in one of the videos, victims were not needed to testify at any of the hearings. Van Dam was not visible in the second video, and no charges were filed related to it, Duax said, because the victims would have had to testify in court.
Duax said the videos were filmed in 2014. In a portion of one of them shown at a hearing in January, Van Dam was seen setting up a video camera inside a gym bag and pointing it toward a locker room shower. Duax said the video later showed naked middle school boys. There were no sex acts seen in the videos, which Duax said Van Dam recorded for his own sexual gratification.
As part of the plea agreement in the case, a charge of possession of child pornography was dismissed. Van Dam must pay a $5,000 special assessment and will be required to register as a sex offender after his release from prison. He also will undergo sex offender treatment while in prison.
Strand ordered Van Dam's sentence to be served consecutive, or back to back, to any prison sentence he may receive for a conviction of state charges in Sioux County District Court. Van Dam has pleaded not guilty to 146 charges related to inappropriate sexual contact with at least 13 children between August 2014 and this past October. A July trial date was continued, and a new date has yet to be set.
Van Dam was arrested on Oct. 23 after the parents of an 11-year-old boy reported that Van Dam had had sexual contact with their son. At least 15 boys have reported incidents, five of them alleging that Van Dam had physical contact with them, police have said.
According to court documents, some or all of the children were under age 12 or 13, and the incidents took place at various locations, including Sioux Center Christian School, where Van Dam taught for nine years before he was fired after charges mounted against him. Van Dam, who taught fifth grade, is accused of sexually abusing or having inappropriate contact with some of the children on at least 24 separate occasions over several months.
Duax said the actions that led to the federal case involved different victims and circumstances than those in the Sioux County case.