A former San Francisco police officer who was a key witness in a federal corruption trial against two of his former partners was sentenced to 12 months in a federal prison Thursday.
Reynaldo Vargas, who was fired by the department for time card fraud, stood before Judge Charles Breyer in a federal courtroom and admitted his guilt for participating in a conspiracy to steal money and property from suspected drug dealers and hand it over to informants.
“I am guilty of all the offenses described,” Vargas said. “I do accept full responsibility for everything that I've done.”
Vargas was indicted in 2014 along with two of his former partners — Edmond Robles and Ian Furminger — on a series of federal charges related to their work in a Mission plainclothes unit.
The trio were part of several undercover teams whose actions in 2009 at single-room-occupancy hotels in the Mission, Tenderloin and on Sixth Street — including allegedly searching rooms without warrants — were captured on video released by the Public Defender's Office in 2011.
In one incident that went far beyond illegal searches, the three officers dug up $30,000 in a search of a Newark heroin dealer's house. They then split the cash, allowing Robles to pay for an expensive Belgian road bike and Furminger to buy new skylights for his home, according to testimony.
The three were set for trial last fall when Vargas suddenly turned and pleaded guilty and then went on to testify against his former partners. Furminger and Robles were both later convicted and sentenced to 41 months and 39 months, respectively, in federal prison. Both were also fined $22,000 apiece, and both appealed their convictions.
Attorneys for Robles and Furminger have said Vargas is untrustworthy for trading a lesser punishment for his cooperation with prosecutors.
But Breyer said Thursday he believed Vargas testified because he finally saw the wrong of his ways.
“In my 18 years on the bench this is one of the most serious offenses that I can imagine, even though no one got killed,” said Breyer.
Still, Vargas' cooperation was key to the convictions, according to both Breyer and federal prosecutor John Hemann. Vargas even told prosecutors things about the case they did not know, Hemann said.
Breyer noted that although Vargas took responsibility for his actions and helped the prosecution, he had to be punished in order to send a message to other police officers.
“This is the final chapter of a truly very sad story for the Police Department in San Francisco,” said Breyer.
Vargas faced a possible $20,000 fine, which he was not forced to pay, and must turn himself in Aug. 7.