The FBI arrested the eighth Paterson police officer to be charged with corruption in a long-running probe.
Agents arrested Sgt. Michael Cheff at Paterson police headquarters shortly before 6 a.m. Tuesday. He faces multiple charges related to civil rights violations and falsifying records.
The charges are based upon information provided by four cooperating witnesses who are identified in the court documents as former Paterson police officers -- all have previously pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges.
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Many of the seven Paterson officers arrested to date have already pleaded guilty in federal court. The conspiracy involved illegal searches and vehicle stops, thefts from drug suspects and assaults.
Two of the witnesses told authorities they stole money from drivers of cars they stopped, and then passed a portion of that money to Cheff, 49, according to the federal criminal complaint.
According to court documents, 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, according to court documents. In 2016, allegedly 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.
Another three witnesses claim that Cheff allegedly stole money from a safe, and passed a portion of that money to two of the witnesses.
According to prosecutors citing the court documents, on Nov. 14, 2017, three officers stopped and arrested an individual and one of the officers stole a few hundred dollars from that individual. Allegedly, 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, according to prosecutors.
Cheff and the other two officers then searched the individual’s room, according to court documents. Cheff allegedly located a safe inside a closet in the room and took money and narcotics from the safe and then handed a small portion of the money to one of the officers and told the officer to log it into evidence. Cheff allegedly put the rest of the money in his pocket and subsequently gave the officer who had stayed behind to guard the individual a portion of the stolen money and gave another portion0 to one of the officers who had searched the apartment with him.
Cheff is expected to be arraigned before a federal magistrate later Tuesday morning in Newark.
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.
Cheff's attorney did not immediately respond to News 4's request for comment.
In a statement to News 4, Paterson's Director of Public Safety Jerry Speziale said: "The corruption was identified by the Paterson Police Department and an investigation was immediately coordinated with the FBI. Crimes committed by any officer tasked with upholding the law will never be accepted and receive swift and decisive action as displayed in this investigation."