The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested a New Jersey police sergeant Tuesday. Sgt. Michael Cheff of the Paterson Police Department is accused of helping officers steal money from drug suspects and of falsifying police reports.
According to the Department of Justice, Cheff and other officers stopped vehicles without cause, searched them, and pocketed cash and other items discovered in the search. Other crooked searches were allegedly conducted on the street and in buildings. Cheff is further accused of receiving a portion of the stolen cash and of knowingly approving falsified police reports about the stops. Some of the money was logged as evidence, but authorities say this was only an effort to avoid suspicion about the volume of narcotics arrests.
One of the incidents occurred on November 14, 2017, following the arrest of a drug suspect. According to the Justice Department, one of the three arresting officers stole hundreds of dollars from the arrestee. Cheff then allegedly joined two of the officers and made their way to the suspect's apartment while the third stayed behind to guard the handcuffed suspect.
The officers allegedly lied to the individual's mother to get her consent to search. They then reportedly made their way to the suspect's room and emptied a safe containing money and drugs. Cheff allegedly gave an officer a small portion of the cash to log and then divided the remainder among the conspirators in the privacy of the station bathroom.
A criminal complaint includes text messages from the participating officers. Among other things, the messages include complaints that one of the cops shorted the others by failing to split the stolen cash evenly. Nonetheless pleased with their work, one officer texted another: "Everybody's car is getting searched and everyone is getting asked if we can search their car. And [we'll] threaten to lock up their momma if they don't let us search their house [laughing my ass off]."
Cheff is charged with conspiracy to deprive a person of civil rights and with falsification of records. If convicted, Cheff could face a maximum of 10 years in prison for the civil rights charge and a maximum of 20 years in prison for the records charge. Both carry a maximum fine of $250,000.
Cheff is the eighth Paterson officer arrested in connection with the corruption scheme. The other seven have already pleaded guilty.