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A former clinical director for a Sonoma Valley youth facility, who for more than a decade had close contact with hundreds of at-risk boys and who prosecutors say engaged in oral sex, masturbation and improper conduct with three teenage clients, will face trial on dozens of criminal counts that could send him to prison for the rest of his life if convicted.

Kevin Scott Thorpe, 40, who was fired from his job last year at the Hanna Boys Center, sat passively in a Sonoma County courtroom Thursday as Judge Dana Simonds ruled that evidence against him in a three-day preliminary hearing supported sex abuse and molestation charges involving four males, three of them former clients of the boys center and one that he knew outside of work.

Thorpe has pleaded not guilty.

Before his arrest last June and subsequent firing, he worked 14 years at the Hanna Boys Center, a residential facility affiliated with the Santa Rosa Diocese of the Catholic Church.

He served as a counselor and case worker for a dozen years before being promoted to clinical director early last year.

A Rohnert Park resident and married father of two girls, he has a master’s degree in counseling, and reportedly was working on his doctorate. He also ran a youth ministry program at his church.

But allegations against him of sexual abuse emerged last year after a 23-year-old man formerly enrolled in the 73-year-old boys center came forward to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

California officials later found evidence that Thorpe abused seven residents of the facility and nearly revoked Hanna Boys Center’s license, though the state instead required significant operational improvements and put the nonprofit on three years of probation.

Thorpe’s preliminary hearing, which concluded last week, included testimony from three former Hanna Boys Center clients about improper conduct that started with sharing of pornography and discussions about sex and escalated to masturbation and eventually oral sex.

Simonds said that although Thorpe never directly threatened the males involved in the case, according to testimony and evidence presented by prosecutors, he nonetheless exploited his position of authority, and their vulnerability and fear of being kicked out of the program to initiate and sustain his sexual advances.

Two of the boys, who are brothers, had escaped an abusive, dysfunctional home in which both parents were incarcerated, only to find themselves with relatives who couldn’t handle them, court testimony showed.

They found security and structure at Hanna Boys Center, which they felt could be lost if they rejected Thorpe’s advances, Simonds said.

The boys “didn’t have any place else to go,” she said, nearly lecturing Thorpe at one point. “They knew what they had to lose. They had no safety net.”

Hanna Boys Center “was their castle, and Mr. Thorpe held the keys to the castle,” she said.

The two brothers were abused beginning in 2007, when they were 14 and 15, and continuing until 2011 and 2010 respectively, according to the charges.

The abuse of a third boy at Hanna Boys Center began when in 2007 when he was 14, according to the court records, and resulted in 15 alleged criminal acts.

Simonds said the “power dynamic” that allowed Thorpe to take advantage of the Hanna Boys Center clients was sufficient to support charges of abusing the boys “by means of force, violence, duress, menace or fear,” as sought by Sonoma County prosecutors.

Thorpe also will face trial on lesser, alternative charges for engaging in oral sex with minors, Deputy District Attorney Andrew Lukas said. If convicted of all counts, including charges involving a fourth boy, he faces a maximum sentence of up to 255 years in prison.

Prosecutors say the fourth youth, now 17, was not a Hanna Boys Center resident but was groomed by Thorpe, who furnished him marijuana and molested him five times in 2016 and 2017, including just days before Thorpe’s June 10 arrest, according to court testimony and records.

Thorpe is set to return to court May 29 and remains in the Sonoma County Jail, with bail set at $1.8 million.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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