SJ firefighter arrested for drug dealing, child molestation

ABC7 News spoke to firefighter Mario Cuestas' former partner who says he alerted the San Jose Fire Department 2 years go.
February 14, 2014 7:22:46 PM PST
The entire San Jose Fire Department is devastated after a raid resulted in the arrest of one of their own on disturbing charges of crimes against children.

There's new information from the California Justice Department on the San Jose firefighter accused of drug and sex crimes against minors. We were the first to report Mario Cuesta's arrest on ABC7 News at 11 Thursday night.

Department of Justice spokesperson Michelle Gregory says investigators are going through the evidence they have. What they find could lead to additional charges. Right now, Cuesta is looking at possession and sales of narcotics, sex acts with minors, and child molestation. The DOJ, which is heading up the task force investigating the 53-year-old, hasn't yet determined how many potential victims might exist.

"If there are other victims out there, people that have information, anybody that knows additional information, please give us a call and share that with us," said Gregory in a phone interview.

Meanwhile, investigators are examining the evidence collected Thursday from his home and office.

ABC7 News captured video of the raid in progress at his office at the fire department's administrative building.

"For us the investigation is still ongoing, we've got to go through his computers and other items seized to see if there's anything else we find and any other charges," Gregory said.

The computer could be key, because the DOJ believes Cuestas solicited or contacted some of the alleged victims online.

The special multi-agency task force that arrested Cuestas for selling drugs and having sex with teens put two months into their investigation. However, we're told the brass at fire headquarters were tipped off two years ago of possible drug activity.

ABC7 News spoke directly with the man who tipped off the fire department. The whistleblower was his legal domestic partner of eight years, Rodney Olivares. Olivares talked to us by phone, but was asked by Cuestas' family not to go on camera.

San Jose has a tough drug and alcohol abuse policy. If alerted to a problem, a supervisor or department head must act. Olivares, to his knowledge, doesn't think any action was taken, possibly because he and Cuestas were breaking up and his action might have been interpreted as a squabble.

The San Jose Fire Department does background checks to identify potential character flaws or drug problems as part of the hiring process.

"You go through a very intensive background investigation. We're looking back about 12-15 years into your background. We're going through psychological exams, looking for anything that may lead to us thinking that something like this may occur," said San Jose Fire Capt. Cleo Doss.

Cuestas' former partner said his suspicion of possible drug use stemmed from what he called a dramatic personality change from loving and caring to irritable and temperamental.

Six months ago, the fire department assigned Cuestas to become its community outreach manager. In that role he worked primarily with neighborhood associations, however investigators say that Cuestas was selling drugs and having sex with teenagers. No one is saying how he linked up with those teens or whether one particular school was involved. Cuestas' partner in the meantime says that he never saw him engaged in that kind of activity during their time together.

City officials believe this to be an isolated case and that it will take time to restore the community's faith in the fire department. It's puzzling to all who knew and worked with him.

Robert Sapien, President of the San Jose Firefighters Union, says the department is devastated.

"We're all sharing same kind or range of emotions," he said. "First of all, the charges seem to indicate that there may have been a victim or victims, which is horrifying for fireighters. I think we're angry, I think we're disappointed, I think we're shocked."

He said Cuestas is extremely religious and at the St. Leo The Great Parish church he was known for his singing. People there are hearing about his arrest. He worked for the church three hours a week in the ministry of music.

The Diocese of San Jose released a statement Friday night saying prior to his employment, "Mr. Cuestas submitted fingerprints, which cleared the FBI and California Department of Justice? We have not received any reports of illegal activity on the part of Mr. Cuestas."

"It's shocking, but you know it's disturbing too," said neighbor Richard Nash.

Cuestas sometimes lived with his parents in San Lorenzo. Neighbors say they'd occasionally see him at the house.

"He didn't live there all the time and a lot of times if they went someplace, he come stayed at their house or something like that," said Nash.

They were disappointed to hear what Cuestas is accused of.

"My wife says she saw the sheriff's over here about 12 or 12:30 yesterday," said Nash.


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