Berkeley Firefighter Charged With Sex Offenses

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Date: 2006-02-10

Berkeley Firefighter Charged With Sex Offenses

Friday, February 10, 2006 | 11:05 AM

Feb. 10 - BCN -- A former Berkeley firefighter who already faces 57 counts of misdemeanor possession of child pornography in Alameda County has now been charged with 21 counts of felony child abuse in Nevada County, prosecutors said today.

Nevada County District Attorney Michael Ferguson said his office has charged 49-year-old Luis Ponce of Grass Valley with 12 counts of aggravated sexual assault against a child and nine counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child.

Ponce is being held in Alameda County's Santa Rita Jail in Dublin in lieu of $1 million bail on the 57 misdemeanor charges, which stem from child pornography found on his computer at the Berkeley Fire Department's training center at 997 Cedar St.

Ferguson said Nevada County has issued a $2 million arrest warrant for Ponce, which will raise his total bail to $3 million.

Ferguson said his understanding is that Ponce will be prosecuted in Alameda County first and then brought to Nevada County later to be prosecuted on the felony charges there.

Ponce was a paramedic supervisor who worked for the Berkeley Fire Department for 17 years.

He came under suspicion when a female colleague in the department was cleaning out her office, where she worked with Ponce, and found items that she thought contained training material.

Instead, the colleague found compact discs with sexually explicit images of minors, according to Alameda County court records.

As part of their investigation, authorities searched Ponce's locker at the fire station as well as his home on Rattlesnake Road in Grass Valley. He and his wife, who is a nurse, run a facility for foster children at their home.

Nevada County sheriff's Lt. Ron Smith said authorities found compact discs "bearing hundreds of graphic photographs."

Alameda County prosecutor John Creighton said authorities also found 60 pairs of girls' panties and a stash of "poppers," a street name for drugs often used to relax muscles during sex.

Creighton said more than 30,000 images of child pornography were found in Ponce's Berkeley Fire Department locker.

The 57 misdemeanor counts that resulted from those images "involve very small children," including baby girls, he said.

Ponce was previously arraigned on the Alameda County charges and is scheduled to return to court Feb. 15 to enter a plea.

He had been on paid administrative leave since being arrested Jan. 26 but he resigned from the department Wednesday.

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