Molestation, porn conviction gets former Berkeley firefighter 63

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Date: 2007-05-18

Molestation, porn conviction gets former Berkeley firefighter 63

May 18, 2007
Kristin Bender
Oakland Tribune 

Former Berkeley firefighter Luis Ponce was sentenced to 63 years to life in state prison Monday following a recent conviction on 16 felony counts of molesting -- and videotaping -- two young girls at his home in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Ponce, 50, was a paramedic supervisor with the Berkeley Fire Department for 17 years before his arrest in January 2006 after a female colleague discovered a computer disc containing child pornography on a station computer Ponce had been using.

He resigned a month later after sexual assault changes were filed against him in both Nevada County -- where he lives with his wife -- and Alameda County where he worked.

In May, Ponce was convicted in Nevada County Superior Court of eight counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child involving oral copulation; one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child; four counts of a forcible lewd act on a child; and three counts of sexual penetration by a foreign object when the victim is unconscious of the nature of the act. Ponce may have drugged some of his victims.

Ponce's attorney David Billingsley of Hayward was not available for comment Tuesday.

Nevada County Deputy District Attorney Charles O'Rourke sought a sentence of 135 years to life for Ponce, but Judge Ersel Edwards sentenced him to less than half that time. He won't be eligible for parole for at least 45 years.

The charges against Ponce were based on videotapes found in his home in Grass Valley and in his locker at the Berkeley Fire Department, which showed him molesting two young girls.

Introduced into evidence during the trial in Nevada County was a seven-minute video of Ponce abusing a 1-year-old girl.

Later, police discovered at least 100 computer discs containing child pornography and 60 pairs of girl's panties in his fire station locker. In Alameda County, Ponce faces 57 misdemeanor counts based on 30,000 images of pornography involving very young children that were found in his Berkeley fire station locker.

He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Ponce could still go to trial in Alameda County but prosecutors were waiting for the outcome of the sentencing in Nevada County to make that decision. The prosecutor handling the case was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Ponce and his wife, a nurse, ran a foster-care facility and investigators say they believe many of the victims were under his care. His wife is not a suspect in either case.

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