Police corruption case comes to a close; fate of two officers now in jury’s hands

The closing arguments in a federal corruption trial against two police officers Monday brought a nearly three-week case one step closer to its end.

Prosecutors characterized the alleged crimes of Sgt. Ian Furminger and Officer Edmond Robles as a breach of a solemn trust and a threat to democracy, while defense lawyers argued the U.S. Attorney's Office had essentially paid for its two key witnesses yet still failed to prove its case.

“At its heart this case is about the violation of the rule of law … what they did was far worse than just stealing,” federal prosecutor John Hemann said in his closing argument Monday morning. Hemann continued, saying the two defendants abused and violated a “solemn oath that they would uphold the law.”

The two men sat in Judge Charles Breyer's courtroom facing federal charges stemming from allegations that include working with informants to rob drug dealers of drugs and money. Their former Mission Police Station plainclothes partner Officer Reynaldo Vargas also allegedly was involved but testified for the prosecution after making a plea deal.

All three men were part of undercover teams based at the Mission Police Station whose actions at single-room-occupancy hotels in the Mission and Tenderloin and on Sixth Street — including allegedly searching rooms without warrants — were captured on video revealed by the Public Defender's Office in 2011.

Vargas has since been fired by the department for falsifying timecards.

For most of the trial, the prosecution has appeared to shape the tone, since it called all but one of the case's witnesses. With phone records, text messages, bank statements and eyewitness testimony, prosecutors painted a picture of the trio working in tandem in 2009 to allegedly rob drug dealers of their wares and money and in many cases, pay off their informants with the stolen drugs.

On Monday, however, the two police officers' lawyers reiterated their cases in light of the evidence.

Teresa Caffesse, who represents Robles, and Brian Getz, Furminger's lawyer, argued that the government's two main witnesses, Vargas and former drug dealer and police informant Cesar Hernandez, could not be trusted.

Both witnesses stood to gain from testifying for the prosecution, proving their version of events — from the officers allegedly stealing Apple gift cards to digging up $30,000 in the back yard of a heroin dealer — cannot be trusted, defense attorneys argued.

“He's in a position to get something for his testimony,” Getz said about Vargas. “He's been bought.”

Vargas was at the heart of nearly all the allegations and Furminger and Robles had been tainted by association, the defense argued.

Both defendants were painted by their attorneys as good cops who were doing their job, which in many cases involved recruiting informants and working with criminals.

John Paul Passaglia, one of Furminger's lawyers, described much of the evidence used against his client as nothing more than good police work.

The officers' fates now lie with the jury.

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