(STL.News) – A sergeant with the Paterson Police Department was arrested today and charged with conspiring to violate the civil rights of an individual in Paterson and with falsifying a corresponding police report, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Police Officer Michael Cheff, 49, of Paterson, was arrested by the FBI this morning and charged by complaint with conspiring to deprive an individual of civil rights under color of law and with falsifying a police report. Cheff is scheduled to have his initial appearance this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leda Dunn Wettre in Newark federal court.
According to documents filed in this and other cases and statements made in court:
Certain Paterson police officers stopped and searched motor vehicles, without any justification, and stole cash and other items from the occupants of the motor vehicles. These officers also illegally stopped and searched individuals in buildings or on the streets of Paterson and seized cash from them. Cheff routinely received a portion of these stolen monies from some of these officers and signed off on corresponding false police reports about the underlying incidents. In 2016, Cheff told one of the officers to start “tagging,” or logging into evidence, some of the money that the officer was stealing, because effecting narcotics arrests without logging money into evidence would otherwise raise questions.
On Nov. 14, 2017, three officers stopped and arrested an individual and one of the officers stole a few hundred dollars from that individual. The officers then went to the individual’s apartment, and Cheff joined them. One officer stayed behind to guard the arrested individual, who was handcuffed in a police car, while the others, including Cheff, obtained consent to search the apartment by lying to the individual’s mother.
Cheff and the other two officers then searched the individual’s room. Cheff located a safe inside a closet in the room and took money and narcotics from the safe. He handed a small portion of the money to one of the officers and told the officer to log it into evidence. Cheff put the rest of the money in his pocket. At the Paterson police station, in a bathroom, Cheff gave the officer who had stayed behind to guard the individual a portion of the stolen money and gave a portion of the stolen money to one of the officers who had searched the apartment with him.
Cheff also approved a police report that falsely stated that the officers had recovered $319 from a shelf in the individual’s room. In fact, Cheff knew that he had stolen a substantial sum of money from a safe in the room.
Later that day, one of the officers sent text messages to another officer discussing Cheff’s theft of money. The officer said, among other things, that Cheff “got us for over a stack today,” that “there was a safe” and that Cheff “grabbed the cash.” According to the individual whose apartment was searched, the safe contained approximately $2,700, and all of it was missing after the search was completed.
The conspiracy to violate civil rights charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The false records charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. The maximum fine for each count is $250,000.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s arrest. He also thanked the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes, the Paterson Police Department, under the direction of Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale and Police Chief Troy Oswald, and the Paterson Police Department Office of Internal Affairs, for their assistance in the investigation.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal, Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division.
The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.