Longtime police sergeant Michael Cheff received portions of illicit cash proceeds collected by his subordinate officers through unjustified vehicle stops and unwarranted searches, according to federal charging documents.
Cheff, 49, of Paterson, was arrested by the FBI on Tuesday morning. He is charged with conspiracy to deprive a person of civil rights and falsification of record.
Charging documents state Cheff was the superior officer to some of the corrupt police officers arrested in the course of the FBI corruption probe that began in April 2018. Documents state four of the police officers cooperated with the FBI for lesser prison terms.
Two of the cooperating police officers, who stole money from drivers and passengers of vehicles by conducting unjustified stops, told the FBI that they passed along a portion of the proceeds to Cheff, according to charging documents.
In 2016, Cheff allegedly told one of the now-convicted officers to start “tagging” or entering into evidence some of the cash he was stealing during drug arrests from people to avoid raising questions. This cooperating officer followed Cheff’s advice, he told the FBI, by logging into evidence a portion of the cash seized in drug arrests.
Cooperating police officers also related an incident that took place on Nov. 14, 2017. In that incident, Cheff allegedly stole money from a safe in an apartment, approved a police report that omitted the theft of the funds, and shared a portion of the stolen proceeds with two now-convicted police officers.
On Nov. 14, 2017, three police officers, who cooperated with the FBI, illegally searched a vehicle in the area of Plesinger Place. One of the officers handcuffed the driver and stole a few hundred dollars.
The officers then went to the victim’s apartment, a short distance from the stopped vehicle. Cheff appeared on the scene in an SUV and joined the officers.
Cheff and two officers had the victim’s mother sign a consent form to search the apartment. Inside the apartment, in the victim’s room, was a safe that contained $2,700. Cheff removed the cash from the safe and put it into his pocket, according to charging documents. He gave $319 to a subordinate officer to tag into evidence.
A police report claimed $319 cash was found on top of a shelf in the victim’s room. Cheff signed and approved the incident report. He knew the search yielded a larger sum than $319 and that the money was found in a safe and not on top of a shelf, according to documents.
Cheff stole the victim’s cash, according to charging documents. In the bathroom at the Frank X. Graves Public Safety Complex, Cheff gave $200 to one officer from the stolen proceeds. He also gave a portion to another officer in the bathroom as well.
Some police officers discussed the loot from the apartment in text messages on Nov. 14, 2017.
Cooperating Witness 3: Cheff got us for over a stack today
Cooperating Witness 1: Lmao how
Cooperating Witness 3: We got a consent to search at plesinger. There was a safe. He grabbed the cash. Suspect said he had $1,500. Chef [sic] gave me $139. Lmai. Then $160 later lol. And told me to tag it all, according to charging documents.
Cooperating Witness 1: F–kkkkk outta here lmao. Nigga lied to you.
Cooperating Witness 3: Word up man. Who the suspect ?
Cooperating Witness 1: Can’t say anything tho. Cheff will look us out no matter what b
Cooperating Witness 3: We had already gotten mangoes earlier lol
Cooperating Witness 1: He low key pulled rank
Cooperating Witness 3: So it was whatever r. Lol from now on. Everybody’s car is getting searched and everyone is getting asked if we can search their car. And threaten to lock up their momma if they don’t let us. Search their house lmao.
Mango refers to cash, according to authorities.
Cooperating Witness 3 also discussed the stolen cash with Cooperating Witness 4 on the same day.
CW 4: Nigga I want my cut lol. Thought there should’ve been something more
CW 3: Yea $200. But that’s not from the safe. Lol ur boss has that.
CW 4: Nig he beat us all. Cool if I collect that from u day 4.
CW 3: Well it’s $200 split 3 ways. So $65. I’ll give it to [CW-1]. I’m not in day 4. Only reason I tagged that much mango was because Cheff made me. Just FYI.
CW 4: Appreciate it. I’ll see you next 4 bud
The reference to boss referred to Cheff, according to the charging documents.
Cheff is the eighth police officer to be arrested as part of the sweeping investigation. He is the highest-ranking officer to be charged.
The other seven officers — Jonathan Bustios, Eudy Ramos, Roger Then, Daniel Pent, Matthew Torres, Frank Toledo, and Ruben McAusland – have pleaded guilty. McAusland and Then were sentenced last year.
Police chief Troy Oswald has been credited with trying to clean up the police force after being appointed by interim mayor Jane Williams-Warren.
Cheff was suspended from the force late Tuesday morning, said public safety director Jerry Speziale.
Cheff has been on the police force for 24 years. His salary is listed at $134,678, according to municipal records.
“When this was brought to light, we took swift and decisive action,” said Speziale. “We will not tolerate corruption in this department.”