Grand jury declines to indict ex-employee of the Refuge accused of exploiting girls

  • In US
  • 2022-09-30 12:31:47Z
  • By Austin American-Statesman
The Refuge Ranch opened in August 2018 on 50 acres in Bastrop County.
The Refuge Ranch opened in August 2018 on 50 acres in Bastrop County.  

A Bastrop County grand jury declined to indict a woman accused of exploiting girls living at the Refuge Ranch, a rehabilitation center that treats survivors of sex trafficking, according to a Bastrop County court records.

Iesha Greene, a former employee of the Refuge, had been under investigation for months after she was accused of selling nude photos of two girls, who were residents of the Refuge and victims of sexual abuse. Authorities alleged that Greene used the proceeds from the photos to buy illegal drugs and alcohol that were then supplied to the girls.

According to court documents, the grand jury declined to indict Greene on several charges, including delivery of a controlled substance, sexual assault, possession of child pornography and sex trafficking.

Brooke Crowder, founder and CEO of the Refuge, said that she expected a different outcome as they continue to seek justice for the two girls, but added that the decision could mean the facility could see a restoration of its license.

The Refuge Ranch opened in August 2018 on 50 acres in Bastrop County. It's the largest long-term, live-in rehabilitation community for child survivors of sex trafficking in the country, and it is designed to house girls ages 11 to 19.

The facility cares for young foster girls who are victims of sex trafficking.

"We hope that our licensing agency and elected officials will expedite that process," Crowder said. "It is time to once again welcome to our healing community the children whose lives have been upended by exploitation so they can continue their healing process in earnest."

The Refuge has been shuttered since March, after allegations of widespread sex trafficking of several of the foster girls surfaced, drawing immediate lawmaker response and hearings.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw later informed Gov. Greg Abbott in a letter that Texas Rangers, the investigative arm of the DPS, found "no evidence that any of the residents at the Refuge shelter have ever been sexually abused or trafficked while at the shelter."

But in a report just a few weeks later, court monitors - watchdogs tasked by a judge with overseeing improvements in the Texas foster care system - contended that they found holes in the Texas Rangers investigation, saying that one girl had not been interviewed at the time of the report.

While Texas Rangers still insist they found no additional evidence of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or human trafficking at the Refuge, the watchdogs and the state Department of Family and Protective Services disagree.

More:Uncertain Refuge: Future unclear for Bastrop facility as abuse investigations continue

The allegations

Beginning in January, officials with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services reported that it had received multiple phone calls to the statewide intake hotline, alleging sexual and physical abuse, exploitation, neglectful supervision and medical neglect at Refuge Ranch.

Among those calls, was one involving an employee - later identified by authorities as Greene - who was an overnight supervisor. Officials alleged that she had begun bringing two girls narcotics and tobacco and was letting them use her personal cell phone, according to an affidavit for a search warrant.

To continue bringing the contraband, Greene told the girls they would have to take nude selfies and share them on Snapchat, and the recipients would send money to Greene's Cash App account as payment, according to the affidavit.

The incident was reported in January to DPS and the Bastrop County sheriff's office, but Greene was not charged.

In a separate incident less than a month later, two residents fled the facility with the assistance of four other employees - including Greene's sister, officials said. Refuge staff reported the incident to law enforcement and DPS, eventually firing two of the employees who were accused of taking part, while another resigned.

The Bastrop County sheriff's office has been conducting a criminal investigation, which came to a close this month. Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook did not immediately respond to requests from the American-Statesman for comment.

More:Judge calls for federal investigation of child porn allegations at Refuge facility in Bastrop County

What's next

The future of the Refuge remains unknown, but Crowder previously told the Statesman that should it reopen, and that the facility was prepared to implement several new measures as part of its hiring procedures and screening processes.

In January, the Refuge hired a third-party service to conduct more extensive background checks into criminal history or a record of abuse. In February, it hired a second independent service to do a comprehensive analysis of the organization's operational policies and procedures and advanced screening procedures.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Bastrop County grand jury doesn't indict former employee of the Refuge


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