In a rare case of police turning on police, a former San Francisco police officer testified Monday in a federal corruption trial that, starting five years ago, he and two other undercover officers repeatedly robbed drug dealers and split the proceeds.
Reynaldo Vargas, who was fired by the department in 2012 for falsifying timecards, took the stand in Judge Charles Breyer's federal courtroom Monday afternoon to testify against his former partners Officer Edmond Robles and Sgt. Ian Furminger.
“I recall at some point money being slipped into my pocket,” said Vargas, adding that he was told: “Here's your cut.”
Such was the beginning of his criminal career with Robles and Furminger at the Mission Police Station in 2009, he said. The trio's criminal behavior began almost as soon as Vargas was partnered with Robles and they were overseen by Furminger in a plainclothes unit, Vargas said.
Vargas has pleaded guilty to charges against him and admitted Monday to stealing cocaine, heroin and other drugs, as well as money and more from people he and his partners detained and arrested.
“I committed these crimes with Officer Robles and at times with my supervisor, Sgt. Furminger,” he said as the two men sat not 20 paces away in court.
Much of their activity involved confidential informants who gave up other criminals who were then often robbed of drugs and money by the three officers, Vargas said. He added that drugs seized at crime scenes were often handed over to informants as payment for their efforts.
One informant in particular, Cesar Hernandez, testified that he had been a high-level drug trafficker before he fell on hard times and was pressured into working for the police.
“We all became pretty close to Hernandez,” he said of the ex-drug dealer the three used mostly to set up other dealers whom they then robbed.
Hernandez was recruited in early 2009 by Robles, who called him “Yucca,” and soon after was used to take down a petty criminal who lived near 22nd and Harrison streets.
“'It was really good,'” Vargas recalled Robles telling him of the bust. “I took that to mean there was a good amount of money.”
But Hernandez wasn't always involved, and the criminality wasn't always planned, Vargas said.
In March 2009, Robles, Vargas and Furminger arrested an alleged drug dealer who operated near Union Square. Vargas said he stole Apple gift cards from the dealer's room after the officers searched it, and he and Robles later used the cards to buy an iPhone and an iPod.
“At times, if I saw something that I wanted, I took it,” said Vargas.
Robles and Furminger, along with three other officers and Vargas, were all part of plainclothes investigation teams whose alleged misdeeds were captured on video discovered by the Public Defender's Office that was 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 soon after. Additional officers involved in the searches, whose alleged misconduct did not pass the federal criminal threshold, could 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 allegations against Vargas, Robles and Furminger include stealing the Apple gift cards. The three are also alleged to have stolen money during four other searches in Newark and San Francisco between May and November 2009. The other officers indicted in February include Arshad Razzak, 41, of San Francisco; Richard Yick, 37, of San Francisco; and Raul Eric Elias, 44, of San Mateo. Their trials are expected to begin in 2015.
Vargas is expected to continue his testimony today at 9 a.m.