Boy Scouts, UNK suspend professor over child porn charges - Omaha.com
Published Friday, May 24, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 8:43 am
Boy Scouts, UNK suspend professor over child porn charges

KEARNEY -- The Kearney man accused of possessing and distributing child pornography has been removed from any association with the Boy Scouts of America.

Joseph J. Benz, 52, an award-winning University of Nebraska at Kearney psychology professor, is charged in Buffalo County Court with three counts of felony distribution of child pornography and three counts of felony possession of child porn. He was arrested Wednesday night at his home after a search warrant was executed there Tuesday night.

Benz, a full-time professor, also has been relieved of his summer teaching duties at UNK where he has taught since 1989.

“Obviously we are very concerned about the situation and we're cooperating fully with the authorities,” said Kelly Bartling, UNK's assistant vice chancellor of communications and community relations. “We will wait for any outcome in the courts before making any personnel decisions.”

A search of one of Benz's home computer uncovered more than 20,000 questionable image files, according to the State Attorney General's Office. The investigation of at least two other computers continues.

Court records detailing the case have been sealed.

Authorities haven't said whether they made requests to examine or remove computers from Benz's UNK office, but Bartling said school officials are cooperating fully.

Benz's overall status with UNK depends on the outcome of the criminal investigation, Bartling said. Another staff member will take over teaching his summer class.

"At this time, we are awaiting an outcome in the judicial process, and the only thing we can do at this point is relieve him of his teaching duties pending the investigation," she said. "We'll act on his permanent status when we know the outcome of the charges."

Benz earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

According to UNK's website, Benz's research interests include human jealousy, technology and teaching and social behavior of sandhill cranes. In 2006, he won the Pratt-Heins award for teaching. He was named honors teacher of the year in 1994 and has won the university's Creative Teaching Award five times.

Benz has been removed locally and nationally from the Boy Scout organization and won't be allowed back in. His membership and all of his privileges were also revoked, and he has been placed on the Scouts' ineligible volunteer list, said David Plond, CEO of the Overland Trails Park Boy Scout Council in Grand Island.

"I'm very disappointed and very shocked. As soon as I found out Thursday, I removed him immediately from our program," he said.

Benz has been with the Boy Scouts for more than 10 years as a Scout leader, but for the last five years has served as a council Training Committee member and trained other adult leaders in 10 counties in central Nebraska, including Buffalo County. He was also fully trained in the Boy Scout youth protection program.

"He had had no direct involvement with the youths for about five years," Plond said.

During Benz's arraignment hearing Thursday in Buffalo County Court, Judge Gerry Jorgensen read Benz the charges against him and their possible penalties. Benz's attorney, John Rademacher of Kearney, asked Jorgensen for a reasonable bond for his client because Benz suffers from significant medical conditions and is scheduled for surgery in two weeks. Benz appeared in court in a wheelchair while wearing an orange jail jumpsuit.

Rademacher said Benz grew up in Omaha and has lived in Kearney for 24 years and poses no flight risk. Jorgensen set bond at $10,000 cash.

Benz posted bond Thursday evening and is free. He is scheduled to appear in court in June.

If convicted, and if he isn't placed on probation, Benz faces 11 to 190 years in prison.

County Attorney Shawn Eatherton has worked several semesters as an adjunct professor in UNK's criminal justice department. Because of that conflict of interest, the Attorney General's Office has been appointed to prosecute Benz.

"Each time a pornographic image of a child is traded online, the child is re-victimized," Attorney General Jon Bruning said in a statement. "We will do everything in our power to ensure he is held accountable for this appalling exploitation."

World-Herald staff writers Kevin Cole and Alissa Skelton contributed to this report.

Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
Omaha crash victim, 19, had touched many lives
Firefighters take on 'fully engulfed barn fire'
Council Bluffs school board approves new district headquarters
Officials announce effort to lure more veterans to Nebraska
SB 132nd Street lane closed
Shane Osborn grabs several endorsements
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Man's body found near North 36th, Seward Streets
Omaha area may get 1 inch of rain tonight
Gov. Heineman vetoes bill to ease restrictions on nurse practitioners
Nebraska banking and finance director to retire
Waitress who served alcohol to teen before fatal crash gets jail time, probation
Owners of exotic dance bar deny prostitution allegations
More Nebraskans are electing to vote early
A day after Ricketts endorsement, Ted Cruz backs Sasse for Senate
TD Ameritrade says profit up 35 percent in second quarter
Some city streets remain closed
Nebraska's U.S. Senate candidates stick to familiar topics at Omaha forum
19-year-old killed in one-vehicle crash at 72nd & Shirley
8% of alcohol sellers checked in Omaha area last week sold booze to minors
OPS bus, SUV collide; no students onboard at the time
Lori Jenkins, charged as accessory in 4 murders, waives speedy trial
Iowa State servers hacked, nearly 30,000 SSNs at risk
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
The idea that Paul Hogan had studied and then hatched at his mother's table was that older people, rather than moving in with relatives or to an assisted-living center, would much prefer to stay home instead.
Breaking Brad: Nebraska GOP candidates unified against naked squirrels
Some of these Nebraska campaigns are tilting pretty far right. At a recent forum, there was a consensus that we need to ban public dancing and clothe naked squirrels in public parks.
Breaking Brad: Inside the mind of a 99-year-old real estate agent
I saw an article about a 99-year-old real estate agent who's still working. “This house is extra special. It has indoor toilets!”
Breaking Brad: Into the claw machine! Florida kid follows Lincoln kid's lead
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a child climbed inside a claw machine. Hey, Florida kid: Nobody likes a copycat.
Breaking Brad: Even Chuck Hassebrook's throwing mud!
The Nebraska campaigns have turned so ugly, Democrat Chuck Hassebrook lobbed unfounded accusations at an imaginary opponent.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Tokyo Sushi
$5 for $10 or $10 for $20 toward All-You-Can-Eat Sushi Purchase
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »