Police arrest former gym owner on drug trafficking

This May 25 photo shows gym equipment being loaded onto a truck at Fit City 24's Ontario location.

ONTARIO — A man who avoided court dates since 2018, when he was faced with the possibility of fraud charges over his shuttered Fit City 24 gyms in Ontario and Vale is now in custody in Malheur County, though he was arrested elsewhere and on unrelated charges.

Payette City Police arrested Casey Bonner on April 6 after he was pulled over for a minor traffic violation, according to Chief John Plaza. During the traffic stop, it was ultimately discovered that Bonner 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, according to the chief.

Bonner was subsequently arrested on a felony charge of drug trafficking along with a misdemeanor charge of pariphanilia.

Despite the drug trafficking charge, Bonner didn’t stay long in the Payette County Jail, which mostly houses violent offenders or those who have been accused of felonies, due to overcrowding issues.

Plaza expressed his frustration over the court’s decision to release Bonner on Monday, although he didn’t get to walk free. Instead, Bonner was released to Malheur County, where he is now housed at the Malheur County Jail.

Bonner was arraigned on multiple felony charges at the Malheur County Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon. He is being charged with two felony counts of failure to appear in the first degree. Bonner is also facing a charge of unauthorized use of a vehicle and unlawful possession of methamphetamine (both felonies from separate cases).

Bonner’s plea hearing for those charges is set for April 29.

Bonner will have a status conference based on his Payette County charges for drug trafficking and pariphanilia on April 22, with his preliminary hearing scheduled for April 23.

Fit City fraud cases

Now that Bonner is in custody, the deputy district attorney is expediting the review of the fraud case related to Bonner’s shuttered Fit City 24 gyms in Ontario and Vale, according to an email from Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe.

Bonner abruptly closed the Ontario location in May of 2018, posting a note on the door of the facility that the gym would be moving locations immediately, which never happened.

The Vale location also closed in June.

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 Malheur County Undersheriff Travis Johnson, the Sheriff’s Office was investigating approximately 131 victims throughout the area, including those residing in Ontario, Nyssa, Vale, Fruitland and Payette.

An official with Malheur County Circuit Court, said that Bonner had a complaint filed against him on May 9 by an attorney representing Wright Family Investments. A demand letter from the company requested approximately $19,000 in past rent for the Ontario location of his gym, according to the court official. The complaint stemmed from Bonner not making payments required in his lease agreement, according to a court official.

Bonner did not appear during a May 18 hearing to contest the eviction notice from Wright Family Investments. When Bonner failed to appear, Judge Erin Landis issued a judgment on the case that Bonner’s business, Fit City 24, would be removed from the premise “immediately.” Bonner was served the eviction notice at the fitness club on May 18, according to a court official.

At the Vale location, building owner Tom Hamilton said during a phone interview in November of 2018, that he had to go through a foreclosure process in order to ensure Bonner no longer had anything to do with the building.

“He was buying it from me on contract and failed on his obligation on contract and I had to take the building back,” Hamilton said.

Johnson said the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office began investigating the case against Bonner as well as Heidi Aebischer, also of Fruitland. No further information was available on whether Aebischer was still being investigated as being tied to the fraud case, though her name does not appear in court databases in either Oregon or Idaho.

Nik Streng is the sports reporter for the Argus Observer. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2015 with a master's degree in journalism, after graduating from Pacific University in 2013 with a degree in creative writing.

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