CANTON, SD—A N’West Iowa elementary school principal accused of misappropriating his mother’s money is set to face a jury trial in March.

A trial date of March 17 has been scheduled in the case of 53-year-old Michael Jay Morran of Primghar, who was arraigned on Tuesday, Dec. 17, in Lincoln County Circuit Court in Canton, SD.

A grand jury has charged Morran, the principal of South O’Brien Elementary in Primghar, with:

  • Three Class 4 felony counts of theft by exploitation.
  • One Class 5 felony count of theft by exploitation.
  • One Class 6 felony count of theft by exploitation.

Morran had been entrusted with property belonging to Tracia Morren, his mother, but allegedly misappropriated several thousand dollars of her money numerous times between Dec. 28, 2015, and Oct. 3, 2017.

According to court documents, Morran “did, with intent to defraud, appropriate Tracia Morren’s property for a use or purpose not in the due and lawful execution of Tracia Morren’s trust.”

Under each of the three Class 4 felony counts, Morran allegedly misappropriated an amount of more than $5,000 but less than or equal to $100,000.

For the Class 5 felony count, he was accused of misappropriating an amount of more than $2,500 but less than or equal to $5,000.

Under the Class 6 felony, Morran allegedly misappropriated an amount of more than $1,000 but less than or equal to $2,500.

A warrant for Morran’s arrest was issued on Nov. 12. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office took him into custody on Nov. 22.

Morran was released on Nov. 26 from the Lincoln County Jail in Canton on a $2,500 bond.

According to court documents, Morran has been ordered to have no contact with his mother, who used to live in Beresford, SD, but has moved to Wyoming.

Attorney Kimberly Zachrison of the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case on behalf of the state.

“As this is an ongoing litigation, the Office of the Attorney General will not comment further at this time,” said Tim Bormann, the office’s chief of staff.

Morran is being defended by attorney Don McCarty of Brookings, SD, according to court documents. McCarty could not be reached for comment.

The South O’Brien School District Board of Education held its regular monthly meeting Monday evening, Dec. 16, in Paullina.

According to the meeting minutes, Morran attended and presented his monthly report.

Toward the end of the meeting, the board went into a closed session “to evaluate the professional competency of an individual whose appointment, hiring, performance or discharge is being considered when necessary to prevent needless and irreparable injury to that individual’s reputation and that individual requests a closed session.”

However, the meeting minutes did not list the name of the individual who requested the closed session.

“We don’t give information on that,” said South O’Brien superintendent Dan Moore.

According to the meeting minutes, board members John Beck, Brenda Kruse, Kevin Nelson, Gina Paulsen, Julie Paulsen, Beth Sibenaller-Woodall and D.J. Weber were in the closed session for nearly 40 minutes.

Moore and board secretary Sharla Rupert also were present for the closed session, but Morran was not listed among the attendees.

When asked whether Morran was still the principal of South O’Brien Elementary, Moore said, “Of course he is, yes.”

As for the criminal charges filed against Morran in South Dakota, Moore said, “We have no comment on any of that.”

Morran, who could not be reached for comment, has been the principal of South O’Brien Elementary since Aug. 1, 2015.

He previously had served for about four years as the principal of Sibley-Ocheyedan Middle School in Sibley.