Federal corruption trial against SF police awaits testimony of former cop 

A former undercover San Francisco police officer is set to testify this week against two former colleagues in a federal corruption trial. - MIKE KOOZMIN/2013 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • mike koozmin/2013 s.f. examiner file photo
  • A former undercover San Francisco police officer is set to testify this week against two former colleagues in a federal corruption trial.

In the first week of a federal corruption trial against San Francisco police officers, jurors heard testimony about a trio of undercover officers who repeatedly robbed drug dealers of money, drugs and property.

But the testimony most anticipated in the case -- that of former police Officer Reynaldo Vargas -- is expected either today or Tuesday.

Days before the trial began in Judge Charles Breyer's federal courtroom, Vargas pleaded guilty to charges against him. He will now testify as a witness for federal prosecutors against his former colleagues in an undercover team based in the Mission.

The third day of the federal jury trial of Sgt. Ian Furminger and Officer Edmond Robles included additional details about their alleged activities, occurring mostly in 2009.

Friday's testimony included more details about interactions between former drug dealer Cesar Hernandez and the three officers over a three-year period, beginning in late 2008, when Hernandez said he was recruited to be an informant after his single-room-occupancy hotel in the Mission was entered by a group of police led by Robles.

For the next year, Hernandez said his main police handler was Robles. But when Robles was transferred to the department's Honda unit at the end of 2009, Vargas became Hernandez's main contact off and on until 2011.

In testimony Friday, Hernandez said he was not only acting as a confidential informant for the San Francisco police, but also working for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"I work for DEA," said Hernandez, who has a strong Mexican accent and had a translator on hand.

Other federal informants, according to Hernandez's testimony, were also coming and going from the Mission Police Station where he often came to talk with Robles, Vargas and at times Furminger.

In one instance, Hernandez said Robles even pointed out an FBI informant to him, warning Hernandez not to do any deals with the man.

Robles' defense lawyer, Teresa Caffesse, queried Hernandez about the issue Friday.

"Mr. Robles identified an FBI informant to you?"

"Yes," replied Hernandez.

Years later, when Hernandez only dealt with Vargas, another FBI informant allegedly swindled Hernandez out of $1,000. When he called Vargas to complain, Hernandez told him he knew a hitman who could take care of the informant, according to a Police Department document recording the interaction that was mentioned in court. In that interaction, Vargas seemed to be dissuading Hernandez from taking any action against the man whom Vargas said was an FBI informant.

Caffesse said in court that Hernandez "offered Vargas the name and bank account number of a hitman to take care" of the informant, referring to the document.

Robles and Furminger, along with three other officers and Vargas, were all part of plainclothes investigation teams whose alleged misdeeds in searches conducted at single-room-occupancy hotels in the Mission, the Tenderloin and on Sixth Street -- including searching rooms without warrants -- were captured on video discovered by the Public Defender's Office in 2011.

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.

The federal charges include constitutional-rights violations, extortion, lying in court and on police reports, and dealing drugs. The allegations against Vargas, Robles and Furminger include stealing a $500 and a $53 Apple gift card during an apartment search in March 2009. The three are also alleged to have stolen money during four other searches in Newark and San Francisco between May and November 2009.

All the officers indicted were suspended without pay in February.

Other officers involved in the searches, whose alleged misconduct did not pass "the federal criminal threshold," could face administrative penalties.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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