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Press Release

Former Firefighter Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Wildland Arson Fire on Federal Land

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Benjamin Cunha, 33, of Placerville, was sentenced today to five years in prison for arson, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. In addition, United States District Judge John A. Mendez ordered Cunha to pay $246,862 in restitution to Cal Fire.

According to court documents, Cunha, a seasonal CAL FIRE firefighter from 2001 to 2003, admitted to setting at least 30 wildland fires during the summers of 2006 and 2007. Two of these fires burned onto federal land. Cunha indicated that his motivation for setting the fires was to overcome boredom, to earn overtime pay for fighting the fires, and to impress his peers.

“As he admitted in his plea agreement, this defendant set a multitude of fires with a callous disregard for the danger to life and property that he was inflicting,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “Today’s sentence is a just result that takes a serial arsonist off the streets.”

“Benjamin Cunha set over 30 fires in El Dorado and Amador Counties. ATF worked with our local partners and utilized several resources to perfect an investigation for federal prosecution,” said Special Agent in Charge Jill A. Snyder. “Cunha had no consideration for CAL FIRE fighters’ safety when he set the fires, placing them in grave danger during the fire suppression efforts.”

On October 6, 2015, Cunha pleaded guilty to one count of arson for the July 6, 2007, Mine Fire, a vegetation fire that burned approximately 80 acres including federally owned land. Cunha admitted to using a distinctive time-delay incendiary device, which he had also used to start many of his other fires.

This case was the product of an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, with assistance from CAL FIRE. Assistant United States Attorneys William S. Wong and Audrey B. Hemesath prosecuted the case.

Updated February 23, 2016

Press Release Number: 2:11-cr-353 MCE