SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — A 20-year veteran San Jose firefighter was arraigned Tuesday on three drug-related charges in Superior Court in San Jose after selling methamphetamine to an undercover officer at a restaurant last month, a prosecutor said.
Santa Clara County Judge Deborah Ryan ordered Mario Enrique Cuestas, 53, who appeared in court in handcuffs and dressed in brown and orange jail clothing, held on $75,000 bail and set his plea hearing for Feb. 26.
Cuestas at one point exchanged facial expressions with some people who showed up to see him in court Tuesday in Department 23, where many felony and misdemeanor cases are scheduled at the Hall of Justice.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office filed three felony drug charges against Cuestas, including selling narcotics to an undercover officer, offering to sell drugs to an officer and possessing narcotics, Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier said.
A separate case into allegations Cuestas sexually abused a teen boy is ongoing but charges have not been filed on it, Vanier said.
The scenario that led to Cuestas’ arrest began when the county’s Specialized Enforcement Team, part of the state Department of Justice, received a tip that Cuestas had been selling illegal drugs, Vanier said.
“Following up on that tip, he was approached by an undercover officer asking for methamphetamine,” Vanier said.
“In essence, (Cuestas) set up a meeting with the officer,” Vanier said. “They went and had lunch, discussed the transaction, and ultimately the first transaction involved the sale of an eighth of an ounce of methamphetamine for $150.”
The two met at a restaurant in San Jose to arrange the drug sale and while it was not clear if Cuestas was on duty, he was wearing something that “made it very clear to the undercover officer that Mr. Cuestas was a member of the San Jose Fire Department,” Vanier said.
Members of the task force, made up of local law enforcement officers, served search warrants at Cuestas’ home in San Lorenzo, on his car and his person, Vanier said.
Cuestas, a 20-year veteran of the department, held the rank of fire engineer as a driver of fire engines and had been the department’s community outreach officer prior to his arrest, according to the department.
He is also suspected of committing oral copulation and other sexual abuse on a 17-year-old boy, according to Department of Justice spokeswoman Michelle Gregory.
Cuestas allegedly provided drugs to the boy, Gregory said.
Vanier said that Cuestas was “an individual who occupies a position of trust and authority with the community and violated that position of trust by engaging in this type of criminal conduct.”
The defendant faces up to four years and eight months on all three counts in state prison or county jail, according to prosecutors.
Cuestas was arrested at the fire department’s administration building on Senter Road last Thursday on suspicion of felony drug and sex abuse offenses and initially held without bail.
Though Cuestas has not been charged with sexual abuse, law enforcement officers “are taking it very seriously and are thoroughly investigating” the allegations, Vanier said.
The Specialized Enforcement Team, which investigates mostly narcotics cases, learned about alleged sexual abuse on the teen by Cuestas while investigating the illegal drugs case, Vanier said.
The undercover officer first met with Cuestas to buy methamphetamine from him on Jan. 17, then the suspect offered to sell the drugs to the officer on Jan. 24, Vanier said.
The drug possession charge came from the small amount of methamphetamine the defendant had on him when he was arrested last Thursday, he said.
The $75,000 bail Cuestas is being held on is consistent with the county’s standard bail schedule for the three counts he was charged with, according to Vanier.
“Mr. Cuestas is being treated just like any other criminal defendant that is charged with crimes in our justice system,” he said.
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