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Firefighter's arrest on drug and sex offenses shocks colleagues, community

Feb 15, 2014

San Jose Mercury News

More of the old "Do as I say, not as I do" from our government masters.

They don't require our government masters to obey the thinly veiled religious laws that will put the rest of us in prison if we break them.

San Jose: Firefighter's arrest on drug and sex offensives shocks colleagues, community

By Robert Salonga and Mark Gomez

Mercury News

Posted: 02/14/2014 11:28:19 AM PST | Updated: about 2 hours ago

SAN JOSE -- The arrest of the man who recently became the primary link between residents and the San Jose Fire Department has sent shock waves through both communities after authorities say an undercover operation revealed he was furnishing meth to and having sex with a teen.

Agents from the Santa Clara County Specialized Enforcement Team -- a state-run squad assembled from local police agencies -- went to the fire administration headquarters Thursday and quietly took 53-year-old Mario Enrique Cuestas into custody before searching his office for evidence.

Friday morning, at Cuestas' San Lorenzo home where he lives with his parents, his father, Mario Sr., said police came to his front door Thursday to inform him about the arrest and prospective charges.

"It came as a shock to us," the father said.

He said little else beyond insisting that he did not believe the allegations against his son, who has lived with him and his wife at the well-kept, single-story suburban home for about a year.

News of the arrest gradually made the department rounds late Thursday, leaving many feeling shock, anger and disappointment, Deputy Chief Robert Sapien said.

"The charges and the arrest are shocking to me and to all firefighters right now. Everyone feels horrible about that," said Sapien, who is president of the firefighters' union. "To have that compounded by having a firefighter associated with those crimes is difficult. Clearly the behaviors are not in line with what we're here to do, which is to help people."

Cuestas has been with the fire department about 20 years. He took on highly visible assignments, like organizing Sept. 11, 2001 commemorations, and in 2007 he helped lead an open-air drill at San Jose's Municipal Stadium to help first responders practice in a mock bio-terrorist attack.

According to his Facebook page, Cuestas has been a church singer for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose, and he sang the national anthem at a multitude of city events over the years.

At the time of his arrest, Cuestas was settling into a new role in directing the department's office of public outreach, which made him firefighters' liaison to schools and community and church organizations. Cuestas had been in that new role for two or three months, according to San Jose Fire Capt. Cleo Doss, a department spokesman.

Before that, Cuestas spent time as fire inspection investigator and spent years as a fire engineer and driver.

"As a fire organization, we take this job very seriously," Doss said. "We take pride in what we do. We love what we do. A big part of what we do has to do with trust. For something like this to take place, it really breaks the trust of the community."

Sapien said the behavior described in the criminal accusations "seems out of character for the person that we know."

"I have confidence in the criminal justice system," Sapien said. "The bottom line is the behaviors we saw described in the charges are completely unacceptable. We never want that kind of behavior related to anyone with the fire department."

Sapien said he does not expect the firefighters' union to provide financial support for Cuestas' criminal defense.

"What we represent is issues arising in natural scope of someone in their job," Sapien said.

Cuestas, who also has a listed residence in San Antonio, Tx., was booked into the Santa Clara County jail and is being held without bail on suspicion of possessing and selling methamphetamine, providing narcotics to a minor, child molestation and oral copulation with a minor. He is being held in protective custody and declined a jail interview.

A drug-related tip to the Santa Clara task force -- which is overseen by the California Department of Justice -- sparked a two-month investigation that ended with Cuestas' arrest, DOJ spokeswoman Michelle Gregory said.

She added that while Cuestas' online activity was examined by agents, it does not appear that Cuestas met his alleged victim, a 17-year-old boy, over the Internet. Over the course of the investigation, agents conducted an undercover sting that bolstered allegations that Cuestas gave meth to and engaged in sexual acts with the boy, Gregory said.

After his arrest, agents searched his office at the fire department where they confiscated a computer hard drive among other items. Gregory said they also searched his home. It was not immediately clear how he got hold of the drugs.

Cuestas is on unpaid administrative leave, Doss said.

Check back later for updates to this story.

Staff writer Natalie Alund contributed to this report. Contact Robert Salonga at Contact Mark Gomez at