By Alex Emslie
Former San Francisco police Sgt. Ian Furminger was sentenced Monday to three years and five months in prison for his role in a series of thefts from drug suspects committed by plainclothes officers in the department.
“This not only casts a shadow on the police department — this casts a shadow on all police,” said federal prosecutor John Hemann. “It does extraordinary damage to both the mission and perception of law enforcement.”
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said the sentencing marked “a day of shame.”
“It’s very disturbing to the court to have to sentence an individual who is charged with enforcing the laws,” Breyer said. “When a law enforcement officer violates his oath, the victims are not only the people directly affected by it, but all of us.”
A jury convicted Furminger in December of two counts of wire fraud, conspiracy against civil rights, and conspiracy to commit theft.
In addition to prison time, Breyer imposed a $25,000 fine, three years supervised release, and 120 hours community service on the first former SFPD officer to be sentenced in two separate federal corruption cases.
Furminger’s co-defendant, Edmond Robles, will likely be sentenced in late March or early April. Ray Vargas pleaded guilty in the case and testified against Furminger and Robles. His sentencing has not been scheduled.
In a separate case concerning another plainclothes unit, a jury convicted former Officer Arshad Razzak in January of illegally searching the rooms of drug suspects and falsifying a police report to make the search appear legal. Co-defendant Richard Yick was acquitted in that case. Criminal proceedings against Raul Elias, also indicted in the case against Razzak and Yick, have been stayed until July.
“There is no place in the San Francisco Police Department for dishonest police officers,” SFPD Deputy Chief Sharon Ferrigno told the court before Furminger was sentenced.
Ferrigno said commanding officers now choose who works in the plainclothes unit, a change since the indictment last year. The department has instituted monthly ethics and Fourth Amendment (search and seizure) trainings for plainclothes officers, she said.
“If they don’t satisfy the training requirement, they’re removed from the team,” Ferrigno said.
Supervising officers, typically sergeants, must now approve the serving of search warrants, she said, and the department has implemented a “stricter selection process” for officers working plainclothes.
Furminger must voluntarily surrender to corrections officers by April 3. His attorney, Brian Getz, said he will appeal the conviction and seek bail pending appeal. In other words, the case is far from over.
“We accept, as we must, the decision of the court in meting out a very heavy prison sentence today,” Getz said, noting that Furminger was convicted on just four of nine counts he was charged with. “The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will be the next judge of those verdicts.”
Getz previously argued that scant, if any, direct evidence linked Furminger to thefts committed by his subordinates, although Vargas and others testified he was involved in a conspiracy to steal property from suspects — including an Apple gift card and, in one incident, more than $30,000 in cash.
Furminger spoke briefly with reporters after he was sentenced. He said he had urged the SFPD to implement stricter policies for plainclothes officers, but the department ignored him.
“I couldn’t keep track of everybody all the time,” he said, adding that he supervised a team of 18 officers. “I don’t know what cops do in the middle of the night. I can’t keep track of that. I know what it’s like to be hungry. I would never take a penny from anybody, ever.”
Furminger categorically denied that he received any profit from thefts committed by Robles and Vargas.
“He’s a crooked cop,” Furminger said of Vargas. “He’s a dirty, dirty man.”
He said the department forced the plainclothes unit to prioritize narcotics over violent crime.
“Your child get kidnapped, your wife gets raped, something bad happens, guess who you want coming?” he said. “Me, me and my guys. We solved it every single time.”
Breyer noted Furminger’s decades of service as a police officer. He had received almost every commendation offered by the SFPD.
“You have an extraordinary record of public service,” Breyer said. “You risked your life to save lives of other people, disadvantaged people.”
But, Breyer said, that didn’t soften the severity of Furminger’s crime.
“It’s clear to me that you did not tell your subordinates, ‘You cannot do this. Stop it or I’ll report it,’ ” Breyer said. “Your conduct is actually more reprehensible than your colleagues.”
Furminger questioned why the department didn’t fire Vargas sooner.
“That’s not my job,” he said. “My job is to protect my people. I was papa bear, and I rocked. I made it happen. I made everything happen. We caught everybody.”