A former taxi driver who called himself "Santa Claus" has been found guilty of sexually abusing a 4-year-old handicapped boy.

Eugene C. Reiners, 68, faces sentencing March 24 before 3rd District Judge Homer Wilkinson.After deliberating seven hours Tuesday and Wednesday, an 8-member jury found Reiners guilty of two counts of sodomy upon a child and two counts of sexual abuse of a child.

Reiners was found guilty of sodomizing and taking nude photos of a 4-year-old boy who was on Reiners' taxi route that included Canyon Rim School for the visually impaired. The crimes occurred during the 1986-87 school year.

The victim, who is legally blind, took the witness stand Monday for 45 minutes to tell the jury how "Santa Claus" took him to the "North Pole" and forced him to perform sex acts, play sex games and pose nude for photographs.

The boy, who is 7 years old now, said "Santa Claus" scared him by shutting him inside a closet and by putting him in a plastic bag.

"I couldn't breathe. I was suffocating. I yelled, `Mom, Mom,' " the victim said under questioning by Tom Vuyk, deputy Salt Lake County attorney.

"What happened next?" Vuyk asked.

"He untied the bag and I got out . . . He said don't ever tell your mom or I'll get this bag and suffocate you again."

To emphasize his demand for the boy to keep quiet, "Santa Claus" also killed two cats and a dog in the boy's presence, the boy said.

"He pointed the gun at me and said, `Don't ever tell your mom about this.' "

Though legally blind, the boy can see people at short distances, Vuyk told the jury. The boy identified Reiners at the defense table as "Santa Claus."

During the period the crimes occurred, Reiners had a full white beard. During the trial, he had only a moustache.

The boy's mother testified that Reiners would often bring the boy home late from school, and that during the first term, the boy's report card indicated 11 absences. "He was only home with me on five days," she testified.

She also told the jury that Reiners, on more than one occasion, came to the front door to ask whether the boy had been complaining about anything.

The boy kept the abuse quiet until his mother noticed physical evidence of abuse and began questioning him about it.

Much of the victim's testimony was corroborated by Salt Lake County sheriff's detective Allen Damewood and Duane Johnson, a child psychologist, both of whom interviewed the boy in 1987.

Defense attorneys tried to convince the jury that there is no evidence to substantiate the victim's allegations. Reiners took the witness stand to deny ever having abused the victim. His attorneys argued that the charges should be dismissed because there is no definite date or time that the alleged offenses occurred.

Last September, Reiners pleaded no contest to attempted sexual abuse of a child in exchange for the more serious charges being dropped. Later he withdrew the plea upon learning that the judge was planning to give him prison time.

Now, Reiners, who remains free under the direction of Pretrial Services until sentencing, could spend the rest of his life in prison. The sodomy crimes he was convicted of carry minimum mandatory terms of five, 10 or 15 years and can be pronounced consecutively with the other charges, which carry minimum mandatory terms of three, six or nine years.