A former San Francisco police officer told a federal jury today of several incidents in 2009 in which he alleged two other officers joined him in stealing cash during searches and sharing the proceeds.
“Mr. Robles kind of bumped my leg under the table and gave cash to me” in a café after one of the searches, former officer Reynaldo Vargas testified at the other men’s trial in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
“Then I saw he did the same thing with Mr. Furminger. In the act of doing it under the table, we were trying to be discreet about it,” Vargas continued.
Vargas, 46, of Palm Desert, has been the chief prosecution witness against Officer Edmond Robles, 47, of Danville, and Sgt. Ian Furminger, 47, of Pleasant Hill.
The two men are on trial in the court of U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer on charges including conspiracy to commit theft, theft, conspiracy to violate civil rights and conspiracy to distribute drugs.
Vargas testified the under-the-table incident happened when he, Robles and Furminger were sitting at a Mission District café in San Francisco after a search of the residential hotel room of a suspected methamphetamine dealer in 2009.
During the search, he said, Robles showed him a stack of bills “a couple of inches thick” after a fourth officer had left the room to take the handcuffed suspect to a police station.
Afterwards, Vargas, Furminger and Robles went to the café, according to Vargas, who said the share Robles allegedly handed him was about $2,000.
Vargas was charged in the same indictment as Robles and Furminger in February, but pleaded guilty to four counts on Oct. 21 and agreed to testify against his former colleagues. He began on the witness stand Monday afternoon and completed his testimony today.
Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney John Hemann, Vargas outlined five incidents in San Francisco and Newark in 2009 in which he alleged that either Robles or both Robles and Furminger joined him in thefts.
The five events are listed as examples of thefts in the theft-conspiracy count of the indictment.
Vargas testified that in the Newark search, he, Robles and Furminger aided Drug Enforcement Administration agents in looking for contraband in the home of a man suspected of being a large-scale heroin dealer.
Vargas said he went alone to the backyard, where he found a shovel and started digging in the ground. He said he unearthed a cache of $30,000 and an ounce of heroin.
Vargas testified that in the car on the way back, he told Robles and Furminger, “Hey you guys, I found it,” and then split the money three ways.
In a search of a house on Potrero Hill, Vargas testified, Robles found some cash in the closet of the master bedroom.
Vargas told the jury that Robles put the cash on the bed, and then motioned Vargas out of the room and shut the door.
“At that point I was acting as the lookout,” he said. When Robles opened the door a few seconds later, the cash was gone, Vargas testified.
Afterwards, the two men drove to a small side alley behind a police station and sat in the car, Vargas said.
“Mr. Robles reached into his pocket and pulled out the wad of cash, of which he gave me half,” Vargas testified. He said the amount he received was about $1,000.
During cross-examination, Furminger’s defense lawyer, Brian Getz, questioned Vargas about whether he was seeking to tailor his testimony to please prosecutors in hopes of getting a lenient sentence.
“Do you have an incentive to track the government’s narrative? ” Getz asked.
“I believe my motive is to be as truthful as possible,” Vargas responded.
Vargas, who joined the Police Department in 1999, was fired in 2012 for falsifying timecards. Furminger and Robles were suspended without pay after being indicted.
The trial resumes on Monday. Prosecutors told Breyer they expect to complete their side of the case by noon on Monday, after which the defense will begin presenting witnesses. The defense attorneys have not announced whether the two officers will testify.
The case is expected to go to the jury in early or mid-December.
Furminger and Robles are both charged with eight counts. The charges include conspiracy to commit theft from a federally funded program – the Police Department – in 2009 and 2010 and theft of more than $5,000 worth of property from such a program.
Other counts are conspiracy against civil rights; two counts of depriving the citizens of San Francisco of their honest services between 2008 and 2012; two counts of wire fraud; and conspiracy to distribute drugs between 2009 and 2011.
Furminger alone is accused of a ninth count of extorting property in 2011 and 2012.
Vargas pleaded guilty before Breyer to charges of conspiracy to distribute drugs, distribution of marijuana, conspiracy to commit theft, and theft. His sentencing date has not been set.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News