Firefighter to face child molestation charges

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Date: 2006-02-09

Firefighter to face child molestation charges

Feb 9, 2006 
by Kristin Bender
Oakland Tribune STAFF WRITER

Four videotapes showing a Berkeley firefighter engaged in sexual acts with children, some of whom may be his foster children, have been seized from the man's home and locker, authorities said Wednesday.

Nevada County Sheriff's Lt. Ron Smith said Nevada County prosecutors will begin reviewing a child molestation case against Luis Ponce, 49, today . Ponce could be charged with numerous counts of felony child molestation as early as Friday, police said.

Ponce, a paramedic supervisor who worked for the Berkeley Fire Department for 17 years until he resigned Wednesday, is already facing 57 charges of misdemeanor possession of child pornography in Alameda County.

The charges came after police uncovered what they said was a cache of graphic child pornography, including at least 100 computer discs, in his fire station locker. Police were notified about the porn after a coworker found a disc in a city computer that Ponce had been using, police said.

Alameda County prosecutor John Creighton said police also found 60 pairs of girls panties and a stash of "poppers," a street name for various alkyl nitrites in Ponce's locker. Poppers create an immediate rush or high and are often used during sex because they cause the muscles in the anus and vagina to relax, experts said.

Included in the evidence found at the fire station and at Ponce's Grass Valley home were more than 30,000 images of child pornography, sources said. Some of the images were of children younger than age 1, Creighton said. Some of the children appeared to be unconscious at the time of the molestation, sources said.

Ponce remains in custody in Santa Rita Jail in Dublin on

$1 million bail. He is slated to enter a plea on the possession of child pornography charges on Wednesday in an Alameda County Superior courtroom.

Working together, Berkeley police investigators and Nevada County sheriff's deputies discovered videotapes showing Ponce engaged in sexual acts with at least four boys and girls, sources said Wednesday.

Police have not yet determined if the children are among Ponce's six foster children.

, which includes a toddler with Down's syndrome.

Police sources said the videos appear to have been made in Ponce's Rattlesnake Road home.

"It is unknown how many victims have been affected, but based on the evidence viewed today, more than one child may have been traumatized and victimized by (Ponce)," according to a statement from Nevada County Sheriff-Coroner Keith Royal.

Ponce's defense attorney David Billingsley declined to comment on the new allegations against his client.

Commenting on the Alameda County charges, Billingsley said, "Mr. Ponce is looking forward to addressing the allegations against him and we are going to be doing that in court. We think that is the appropriate forum for us to be addressing those issues."

Deputy Fire Chief David Orth said Ponce had been on paid administrative leave since he was arrested on Jan. 26. Ponce resigned from the department on Wednesday, Orth said.

Ponce is married and commuted from his Grass Valley home to his job in Berkeley several times a month. Smith said Ponce's wife has not been interviewed about the case, but that she is not a suspected coconspirator in the case.

Because the Ponce residence was a foster home, sheriff's investigators want to hear from anyone who has information about children who were placed there, even temporarily. Anyone with information may call (530)265-1263.

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