Life term possible for molester

Mark Bustamante

A former senior mentor at Mesa County Partners and youth sports coach could receive what amounts to a life sentence in prison after admitting Thursday to sexually assaulting two young boys.

A shackled Mark Bustamante, 51, rose from the defendant’s table and muttered “I love you” to his wife after pleading guilty on two counts of sexual assault on a child. Under a plea agreement with the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office, Bustamante could be sentenced to anything from probation to an indeterminate term in state prison: a maximum possible 24 years to life. Such a sentence would mean he would have to serve at least 24 years in prison before being eligible for parole consideration.

In or out of prison, Bustamante would be under state supervision for the rest of his life.

Bustamante was arrested July 3 on suspicion of molesting two boys, ages 9 and 10, between March 2010 and May and while he was a Partners mentor. He began serving as a mentor in 2009.

District Judge Richard Gurley raised bond on July 12 after a third victim — a client at Mesa Developmental Services — told investigators he was molested over five years. Charging documents state the boy was under the age of 15 at the time of the assaults.

Prosecutors on Aug. 2 charged Bustamante after a fourth victim — a boy whom Bustamante met in a youth football program — said he was molested between January 2011 and December 2011. Bustamante was a volunteer with youth flag football and basketball teams organized by the city of Grand Junction.

With his guilty pleas Thursday, Bustamante admitted assaults on all four victims.

Partners has said Bustamante came under scrutiny in May after a rafting trip when a staff member reported seeing him hugging a child for no particular reason. Executive Director Joe Higgins said Bustamante was fired when he allegedly ignored attempts by staff to be questioned about the incident.

Higgins, who sat through Thursday’s plea hearing, said he was “devastated” by the episode but said he’s confident all of Bustamante’s victims have been identified, at least in his organization.

“I worry about that,” Higgins said, speaking of the prospect of additional victims who haven’t come forward.

Gurley said Thursday that Bustamante’s criminal history may used by prosecutors in pushing for an upper-end prison sentence.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, Bustamante was convicted at trial in Mesa County in 2007 of third-degree assault and domestic violence and has two separate convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol in 1981 and 1993 in Arizona. Bustamante also has a 1994 Pitkin County conviction for driving while ability impaired.

He’s scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 6 and is being held at the Mesa County Jail without bond.


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