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Former Calif. FF charged with placing explosives along roads, highways

Benjamin Cunha pleaded not guilty to charges related to improvised explosive devices in El Dorado County and Sacramento County

Explosives near roadway

Benjamin Cunha, 41, was arrested last Friday after an investigation by the FBI, California Highway Patrol and El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, the CHP and Sheriff’s Office said in statements.

California Highway Patrol

By Andrew Chamings

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A former California firefighter who previously pleaded guilty to arson, and admitted to starting numerous wildfires because he was bored and wanted more overtime, has now been charged with planting bombs on Northern California highways.

An “exhaustive investigation” involving multiple agencies resulted in the arrest of Benjamin Cunha , 41, last week, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office said. Cunha has been charged with 13 felony counts, according to jail records, including possessing and detonating explosive devices, and he pleaded not guilty in court on Wednesday.

[PREVIOUSLY: Former Calif. firefighter accused of planting explosives near roadways pleads not guilty]

“The investigation was regarding a series of improvised explosive devices that had been placed alongside roads and highways, in multiple locations in El Dorado County and Sacramento County ,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

In 2016, Cunha was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to starting the Mine Fire that burned 80 acres in El Dorado County in the summer of 2007. He also admitted to setting over 30 fires outside Sacramento with homemade, time-delayed explosives in 2006 and 2007. Surveillance footage taken before the spread of the Sand Fire in August 2007 caught a Toyota truck registered to Cunha’s grandfather passing the area four times before the fire started, leading to his arrest.

Cunha was working as a firefighter in the county at the time, and later told investigators “he was motivated by boredom and the desire to be paid overtime when called out to fires,” according to the 2015 plea deal reviewed by SFGATE.

“Two of Cunha’s stated goals were to impress his fellow firefighters with his skill in fighting the very fires he started, and to accrue overtime pay,” a sentencing memorandum from 2016 stated.

Cunha is currently being held in El Dorado County Jail without bail, records show.

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