Trial begins for accused dirty cops

A prosecutor told jurors in the theft and conspiracy trial of two San Francisco police officers in federal court Monday that the case is about “corruption with a badge.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rodney Villazor said in his opening statement in the trial of Sgt. Ian Furminger and Officer Edmond Robles:

“What motivated them was money. That’s what this case is really about — cops stealing money.”

Furminger, 47, of Pleasant Hill, and Robles, 47, of Danville, are accused of stealing money and property during searches in San Francisco and Newark in 2009. They are also accused of conspiring to sell drugs between 2009 and 2011.

A third defendant, former officer Reynaldo Vargas, 46, of Palm Desert, pleaded guilty on Oct. 21 to four felonies and is slated to testify against his former colleagues later in the trial.

The proceeding in the court of U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco is expected to last about three weeks.

Defense attorneys during their opening statements attacked Vargas, saying that his testimony should not be believed because he is seeking a lenient sentence in exchange for serving as a witness.

Furminger’s attorney, Brian Getz told the jury:

“His [Vargas’] testimony has been bought and paid for. … Ian Furminger has not committed any of the crimes he is charged with.”

Robles’s lawyer, Teresa Caffese, said:

“Reynaldo Vargas is pointing his finger at Edmond Robles because he wanted to save his own skin. … The evidence is going to show that Edmond Robles had no knowledge of what Reynaldo Vargas was doing.”

Furminger and Robles, who have been suspended without pay from their police jobs, are each charged with eight counts.

The charges include conspiracy to commit theft from a federally funded program, namely, the San Francisco Police Department; theft of more than $5,000 worth of property from a federally funded program; conspiracy against civil rights, two counts of wire fraud; two counts of defrauding the citizens of San Francisco of their honest services; and conspiracy to distribute drugs.

Furminger alone is charged with a ninth count of extorting property in 2011 and 2012. The theft-conspiracy count lists five alleged examples of thefts by the two men in 2009.

They include theft of a $500 Apple gift card and other items during a search of a suspected drug dealer’s apartment in San Francisco; three other thefts of money during San Francisco searches; and a theft during a search of a house in Newark on May 25, 2009.

Villazor told jurors that in the Newark search, the three San Francisco officers were assisting U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents in a large-scale drug investigation.

While agents and the other two police officers were in the house, Vargas went into the backyard, where he noticed a shovel.

Vargas “starting digging around” and found $30,000 in buried cash, the prosecutor said.

Villazor said Vargas gave $10,000 to each of the other officers. He said bank records brought into evidence will show that Robles deposited $6,000 in cash in his bank account the next day.

Vargas pleaded guilty before Breyer on Oct. 21 to charges of conspiracy to distribute drugs, distribution of marijuana, conspiracy to commit theft, and theft of more than $5,000 worth of property from a federally funded program. His sentencing date has not been set.

The trial will resume in Breyer’s Federal Building courtroom on Thursday.