Former San Francisco undercover officer sentenced for thefts from drug suspects

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A former San Francisco undercover police officer who stole money and property seized during drug searches in 2009 was sentenced in federal court Wednesday to three years and three months in prison.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said he found the violation of public trust by Edmond Robles, 47, of Danville, and two other former officers to be "very disturbing."

The sentence must "serve the purpose of giving notice to people who are given the trust of the community that the trust can't be violated without serious sanctions," Breyer said.

Robles, a 22-year member of the police force, was convicted by a jury in Breyer's court in San Francisco in December of five felonies related to the theft scheme.

The five counts were conspiracy to violate civil rights, two counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit theft from a federally funded program (namely, the Police Department) and theft.

Former Sgt. Ian Furminger, 47, of Pleasant Hill, was convicted of the first four of those charges. Breyer sentenced him last month to a slightly longer term of three years and five months.

Breyer told Robles that Furminger "had greater responsibility than you had" but said the trial evidence showed "your conduct was widespread and consistent over a period of time."

Prosecutors presented evidence during the trial that Robles, Furminger and a third former officer, Reynaldo Vargas, stole thousands of dollars and Apple gift cards from drug suspects during four searches in San Francisco and one on Newark in 2009.

The officers were working as undercover detectives out of the Police Department's Mission Station at the time.

Vargas, 46, of Palm Desert, pleaded guilty to four counts two weeks before the trial and testified against his former colleagues.

He is due to be sentenced by Breyer on May 6 on the four charges of conspiracy to distribute drugs, distribution of marijuana, conspiracy to commit theft, and theft.

Both Furminger and Robles resigned after being convicted. Vargas was fired in 2012 for falsifying time cards.

Robles's defense attorney, Anthony Brass, referred briefly during the sentencing to the public furor that arose following the revelation last week that Furminger exchanged racist and homophobic text messages with four other officers in 2011 and 2012.

Brass told Breyer, "There has been a media frenzy, but Mr. Robles was not involved in any part of the racist texts."

Breyer said, "I'm pleased to hear that." He said, "Nothing in that vein has been brought to my attention" concerning Robles and that the controversy did not affect his sentencing decision.

The existence of the text messages was made public in a court filing Friday in which prosecutors opposed a bid by Furminger for release on bail during his appeal of his conviction.

Prosecutors gave examples of what they said were "some of the messages" seized by the FBI.

On Monday, Breyer denied Furminger's request for bail for several reasons. His order did not mention the messages.

Although the filing did not name the other officers who sent and received the texts, their lawyers have identified them as Michael Celis, Rain Daugherty, Michael Robison and Noel Schwab. Police Chief Greg Suhr has said the four officers have been reassigned during a probe that could lead to the firing of any found to be biased.

Brass also told Breyer that undercover police work, to which Robles was assigned for eight years, was a "life-destroying" job because of the extreme stress.

Breyer said the three officers apparently developed "a sense of entitlement because of the extraordinary demands of the work."

"It became a corruption of their jobs and their character," he said.

Breyer called on the Police Department to address the problem.

The case "does not mean the Police Department as a whole has a widespread endemic problem," he said.

"(But) it does say something to the Police Department that there is some failure of training or operations that doesn't properly address the difficulty of undercover work. It's got to be addressed," the judge said.

In a brief statement during the sentencing, Robles said, "I can live without my badge," but said he was deeply saddened that his prison term will take him away from his three young daughters.

Breyer said nearly all defendants he has sentenced have left behind family members and said, "That is one of the tragedies of criminal conduct."

Robles was ordered to begin serving his prison term on May 1 and Furminger will report to prison on April 3. Both men have also been fined $25,000.