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Police recall previous complaint against molester

Bonadonna
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A social worker who police say confessed in his suicide note that he molested a 14-year-old client of Tahoe Turning Point had been previously accused of molesting another boy from the same facility, police said this week.

The accusation last March from a 16-year-old boy, which police were unable to substantiate, came six months before 50-year-old Al Bonadonna was arrested on suspicion of molesting a 14-year-old boy from Tahoe Turning Point whom he transported to Williams, Calif., for a court hearing.

Tahoe Turning Point is a long-term residential rehabilitation center in South Lake Tahoe for adolescent boys with substance abuse or mental problems.



After making $25,000 bail in Colusa County on Nov. 25 and being fired from his job, Bonadonna disappeared.

His body was found Feb. 20 in his motor home on the outskirts of Dayton by a pair of all-terrain riders. A brief suicide note was also discovered.




Written on a piece of spiral notebook paper, Bonadonna shouldered the blame for the November molestation of a 14-year-old boy and stated he was guilty, said Lyon County sheriff’s Detective Rob Hall.

“He didn’t go into great detail about the case, about the charges or the allegations or anything like that,” Hall said of the suicide note.

Last week Rich Barna, Tahoe Turning Point’s executive director, said there were no complaints of sexual misconduct in the 19 years Bonadonna worked for the agency.

Tahoe Turning Point clients are mostly sent from outside counties to work on issues before being released to family. There are usually six clients to a house.

Bonadonna was the director of one of the group homes near Heavenly Mountain Resort.

“He was an entrusted employee,” Barna said in an interview on Monday. “He gave us no indication he was inappropriate with children.”

On Tuesday, South Lake Tahoe police Lt. Martin Hewlett said Tahoe Turning Point was notified of the unfounded complaint in March.

When he was reached again on Wednesday, Barna wouldn’t confirm or deny he knew about the March allegation. He said he was bound by confidentiality laws to “protect clients and employees.”

In addition to the March complaint, Bonadonna’s name was in the police department’s computer system six times for reporting juvenile runaways, Hewlett said.

Exactly three months before the discovery of his body, authorities, acting on a warrant from Colusa County, found Bonadonna on Kingsbury Grade on Nov. 20. Bonadonna eluded authorities, crashed his vehicle and was taken to Barton Memorial Hospital for treatment for wounds, including a head injury.

On his release a day later, he was arrested and sent to El Dorado County Jail to begin his extradition process. The warrant alleged Bonadonna sexually molested the 14-year-old boy on Nov. 18 at a Motel 6 in Williams a day before a court hearing. The next day, the teenager told his parents of the incident.

Lyon County sheriff’s Lt. Jeroen Wynands said an autopsy has been completed. It determined Bonadonna’s time of death sometime between Nov. 25 and Feb. 20.

As news spread of the suicide and coinciding confession, people who had contact with Bonadonna were left in a state of shock.

Everything seemed normal

Like others, Jerry Erickson was shocked when he learned about the suicide and confession.

“I didn’t see nothing except good things,” said Erickson, a swim coach at the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Center. “He was very, very professional in what he was doing. I can always tell; the kids gave him a lot of respect.”

Erickson said Bonadonna would bring children to the recreation center to help put the bubble over the center’s pool.

Brenton Warren, who worked for a month in 1997 as a counselor at the house where Bonadonna supervised an average of six children, didn’t notice improper activity.

“He seemed like a good child-care worker,” Warren said. “Everything seemed pretty normal.”

Bonadonna underwent a background check when he was hired 19 years ago.

On one instance, Barna learned Bonadonna spoke to his clients about occurrences at brothels. Out of his staff, Bonadonna was the only case worker to live on the same premises as the juveniles, Barna said, citing an agreement Bonadonna had with the prior executive director.

Warning signs

South Lake Tahoe Police Lt. Terry Daniels said child molesters and sex offenders don’t fit a particular profile. Daniels referred to the recent arrest of a municipal worker in Kansas whom authorities believed was a serial killer nicknamed B.T.K. for his method of binding, torturing and killing victims in Wichita.

And yet the suspect, Dennis Rader, 59, was a church member and worked as a city code enforcer.

“What you find with these type of guys is they’re regular, normal people for the most part and this one portion of their life is abnormal,” Daniels said.

But there are things to look out for, which are listed in a 2001 publication titled “Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis” by retired FBI agent Kenneth Lanning.

In the publication, Lanning had warning signs of adults who prefer sex with children. Included in the list were limited social contact as teenagers, those who are older than 25 and never married, live alone or with parents, has excessive interest in children and has a young circle of friends.

The three most important indicators, Lanning stated, are having access to children, numerous victims and a collection of child pornography.

Wynands said there was no child pornography found in Bonadonna’s motor home nor any video equipment.

Married to his work

Don Sanford, who met Bonadonna more than 30 years ago in college at Oswego, New York, said he was attempting to visit his friend at the end this month. He called Bonadonna’s company cell phone in January but got a different person.

He said Bonadonna never married and he was unaware of Bonadonna’s dating habits. Sanford, who brought his two sons, who were then middle-school age, to visit years ago, noted Bonadonna lived in the basement of a Tahoe Turning Point home and kept a wall between his company and children under his care.

“Even if a person doesn’t date or doesn’t have an active social life with women for instance, you wouldn’t think that that would make any difference or if it did something would have happened before,” Sanford said. “The guy had a very successful career, done a lot of good and all of a sudden this happens.”

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com


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