In this June 27, 2018, file photo, Former Milton Academy teacher Reynold Buono is escorted into Norfolk County Superior Court in Dedham, Massachusetts. Credit: AP / The Quincy Patriot Ledger via AP

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.

A retired drama teacher accused of sexually assaulting boys in Massachusetts and New York was allowed to teach in a program for senior citizens that’s affiliated with the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn campus.

USM staff and faculty members are subject to criminal background checks, but they’re not required for senior college volunteers like 75-year-old Reynold “Rey” Buono, who’s free on bail while awaiting trial in Massachusetts, according to the University of Maine System.

The senior college’s board severed connections with him immediately upon learning of the charges, said Lucy Bisson, the board’s chair.

Massachusetts attorney Eric MacLeish, who represents several of Buono’s alleged victims, said it was an institutional oversight that there was no background check, or at least a simple Google search.

“I find it hard to believe that they don’t have some sort of screening. I find that really, really hard to understand,” said MacLeish, who described Buono as “one of the worst, hard-core pedophiles that I’ve come across.”

A year ago, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reinstated charges against Buono, who’s accused of raping a Milton Academy student in the 1980s. Also, a former student who sued an elite private school in New York City names Buono as an abuser. That lawsuit was settled last month, said Gil Santamarina, lawyer for the plaintiff. The settlement was confidential.

An attorney for Buono, who has an address in Lewiston, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

Buono’s move to Maine was approved by officials in Massachusetts, and he remains free on $50,000 bail with conditions preventing unsupervised conduct with anyone under 18, said David Traub, spokesperson for the Norfolk district attorney. He’s due in court next week for a routine hearing.

The University of Southern Maine noted that Buono was never employed by the university or the University of Maine System. Instead, he was a volunteer at the USM Lewiston-Auburn campus’ senior college, which is associated with USM and featured on the USM website. The program offers noncredit classes for residents 50 and older on a variety of subjects, USM spokesperson Daniel Hartill said.

Before being removed, Buono was teaching courses including “Hamlet: Deep Dive” that examined one act of the play each week and “Juliet: An Actor Prepares.” Another course, which was to start on Feb. 22, was called “Hurray for Hollywood Screwball Comedies.” He also had classes that were scheduled to begin in April.

Buono is described as having retired to Maine after teaching theater and film in Southeast Asia, and having expertise in Shakespeare, Greek theater and cinema, according to the course catalog on USM’s website.

Milton Academy said in February 2017 that independent investigators had determined Buono molested at least a dozen male students. He headed the school’s theater program for more than a decade.

Buono was returned to the United States from Thailand in 2017 after a district attorney and Milton police investigated allegations by the former student at Milton Academy in the early 1980s.

A judge threw out all charges against him in 2019, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reinstated two counts of forcible rape of a child and two counts of rape of a child. Massachusetts abolished the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse, but most of the Milton Academy cases preceded the change in law and are too old to be prosecuted, MacLeish said.

Educators use their status to perpetuate abuse, he said, so it was disturbing to see Buono volunteering with a program associated with USM.

Bisson emphasized that the senior college is a volunteer organization.

“We at Lewiston-Auburn Senior College always try to make the best decisions regarding our senior students and we will continue to try to make the best decisions in the future,” she said.

Story by David Sharp.