Gangsters in blue? Feds bust 8th cop in Paterson on conspiracy charges
PATERSON — They were supposed to protect and to serve. Instead, authorities say, they acted like typical mobsters, robbing people they arrested and pulled over.
The feds this week busted another city officer — the eighth one caught in a years-long corruption investigation into the department of the state's third largest city. Already, several officers have pleaded guilty and two have been sentenced.
Michael Cheff, 49, of Paterson, was arrested Tuesday morning and charged in federal court with conspiring to deprive an individual of civil rights under color of law and with falsifying a police report.
The FBI said the sergeant was among a group of cops who would pull over vehicles for no reason and then steal drugs and cash from the people they detained.
Investigators said cops forced victims to give them permission to search their homes home by threatening to arrest their mothers.
In November 2017, three cops arrested a victim and stole several hundred dollars from him, the FBI said. They then went to his home with Cheff, who found a safe in the victim's room. Feds say Cheff stole $2,700 from the safe and gave a cut to each of the other cops.
Cheff later approved a police report that falsely stated that officers had confiscated just $319 from the victim's room, authorities said.
The racket went as far back as 2016, when Cheff told other crooked cops to start "tagging" some of the money that they were stealing — that is, place it into custody — so that suspicions wouldn't be raised by them pocketing all of the loot, federal prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said evidence against Cheff includes text messages that two cops sent each other bragging about Cheff's theft from the safe.
The criminal complaint notes that there were at least three officers acting as cooperating witnesses, although they aren't named. One of the cooperating witnesses complained that Cheff often shortchanged other corrupt cops by keeping more than his fair share of the stolen proceeds.
Cheff is facing up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
In March, Ruben McAusland was sentenced to 66 months in prison for dealing heroin, crack, cocaine and marijuana — sometimes from his police vehicle — and assaulting a hospital patient. His partner, Roger Then, who videotaped the assault, was sentenced in April to six months in prison.
Jonathan Bustios, Matthew Torres, Daniel Pent and Frank Toledo have pleaded guilty to charges that they would rob people that they pulled over. Eudy Ramos has pleaded not guilty.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.