For the second day in a row Tuesday, a former police officer testified against two of his ex-colleagues in a federal corruption trial, revealing details about the trio's biggest theft: $30,000 stolen during the search of a heroin dealer's back yard in 2009.
But Reynaldo Vargas, who pleaded guilty to several charges as part of a plea agreement, also faced combative questioning from defense lawyers about why he pleaded and what he hoped to gain from cooperating with the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The trial of Officer Edmond Robles and Sgt. Ian Furminger in Judge Charles Breyer's federal courtroom started last week and has thus far alleged that, along with Vargas, they repeatedly worked with informants to steal money and drugs from dealers they busted while working in the Mission during 2009.
Vargas' testimony Tuesday detailed several more instances where the three spilt cash stolen from drug dealers.
But the biggest haul of all, as described by Vargas, came from a heroin dealer's house in Newark in March 2009.
Sergio “Manny” Vasquez was under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and was eventually indicted after he was arrested by the three undercover officers, who then searched Vasquez's home. It was there, buried in the back yard, where Vargas found and took a sack filled with more than $30,000.
“I split the money into three exact portions,” Vargas said. “I gave $10,000 to Furminger. I kept $10,000 and I gave $10,000 to Mr. Robles.”
By Tuesday afternoon, the prosecution began its cross-examination of Vargas by intimating that he was telling a story that fit in with the prosecution's narrative so he would be treated kindly when sentenced.
“Truthful to you,” Furminger's lawyer, Brian Getz, said is “tweaking your story to the government narrative.”
Vargas denied that accusation and said he was telling the truth “because I'm guilty … I'm guilty and it was my full belief that I would be found guilty.”
The plea agreement, Vargas noted, included the dropping of one charge — civil-rights violations — but had no guarantee that his sentence would be reduced after cooperating.
“Tell me why it took so long?” asked Getz, wondering why Vargas waited more than six months after his indictment to plead.
Vargas said that as the case came closer to its court date, he saw the evidence against him and the pressure mounted.
“There came a time, it was frankly difficult for me to say, 'I'm just gonna stop lying,'” said Vargas. “There was a weight on me.”
In one of several instances brought up to apparently paint Vargas as a habitual liar, Getz brought up an incident in 2002 when Vargas lied to investigators at the Office of Citizen Complaints involving accusations against him.
“You lied in order to protect your position,” Getz said to Vargas, who assented to that fact.
Robles, Furminger, Vargas and three other officers were part of plainclothes investigation teams whose alleged misdeeds were captured on video discovered by the Public Defender's Office and released to the media in 2011.
The officers' alleged actions mostly occurred at single-room-occupancy hotels in the Mission, the Tenderloin and on Sixth Street and included searching rooms without warrants.
All six men were indicted in February and suspended without pay. Other officers involved in the incidents, whose alleged misconduct did not pass the federal criminal threshold, may face administrative penalties.
The federal charges against all six include constitutional-rights violations, extortion, lying in court and on police reports, and dealing drugs.
The trial will reconvene Monday at 9 a.m.