A Payette man who was on probation and paying restitution for money that was fraudulently taken in relation to the closing of his Fit City gyms in Ontario and Vale in 2018 was found dead in the Snake River at the beginning of this month.
According to Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe on Oct. 19, Casey Alan Bonner had ran from law enforcement, and it was reported that he was then seen at the Ontario State Park. When law enforcement officials arrived, the sheriff said Bonner “was indeed in the Snake River floating by.” Wolfe says Bonner “refused to get out at commands of law enforcement and was engaged in conversation [with responding officers] saying he was not getting out of the river.”
“Law enforcement personnel were just not equipped to jump in the river and make an arrest with their gun belts and duty vests on, especially if the subject was combative,” the sheriff said.
Wolfe said that Bonner was last seen by sheriff deputies “when he was down river from the state park.”
“So we did search a couple different times with a boat after that date, but he was not located,” the sheriff said. “On Nov. 2, we received a call from a citizen who thought they had seen a body in the river. We responded and it was Mr. Bonner.”
It’s unknown how long Bonner was in the river, but Wolfe said it didn’t seem likely Bonner would have went back to the river if he made it out. His body was found near the Payette Park by Boatlanding Road, according to Wolfe. This is about 4 miles from where deputies last saw Bonner.
Malheur County Medical Examiner Dr. David W. Brauer confirmed during a phone interview on Monday that it was hard to tell how long Bonner had been in the water, due to the time of year and the water being cold.
He said Bonner’s cause of death “looks like probable drowning,” however another possibility would be hypothermia, though there would be “no way to delineate the two.”
“You really kind of have to go on the circumstances and everything,” Brauer said.
Bonner was actively paying down restitution on the gym fraud cases, according to court records, having paid just over 80% in five months. An official at Malheur County Circuit Court this morning confirmed that his restitution was set at $7,899, when it was set on June 3.
The balance remaining as of today was $1,475.
There were a number of victims in the gym fraud cases, and anyone who had not seen compensation yet will have to take the matter up as a civil judgement case.
However, if there is nothing to satisfy the debt, such as an estate or life insurance policy for example, there may be no other way for victims to be compensated.
Bonner was sentenced in June to two years of probation during which time he had to pay victims back from the gym fraud cases after he pleaded guilty in February to one count of unauthorized use of a vehicle and one count of failure to appear in the first degree (both felonies).
Bonner’s felony charge of unlawful possession of methamphetamine and one count of failure to appear in the first degree were dismissed.
Bonner was previously the owner of Fit City 24 in Ontario and the Fit City Vale location.
The Ontario gym closed in May of 2018 abruptly after the business was evicted by the owner of the building. The Vale location would close that June. Both locations have since reopened as gyms under different ownership.
After the shuttering of the Ontario space, several reports of fraud were filed, some members claiming they were double-charged for their membership one day before the Ontario closure.
According to the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office, which lead the investigation on the case, there were about 131 victims throughout the area, residing in Ontario, Nyssa, Vale, Fruitland and Payette.
Bonner was arrested on April 6, 2019, in Payette for a minor traffic violation, when it was ultimately discovered that he had 13.45 pounds of marijuana in his truck as well as equipment that looked like it would be used for extracting oils from the plant material.
While he originally entered a not guilty plea to two felony counts of delivery of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school, he entered a guilty plea on the two counts on Aug. 16, 2019.
Bonner’s sentencing for his Payette County case was slated for Feb. 21.