A Paterson police sergeant stole money from a suspect, then lied on reports to protect himself and his department accomplices, an indictment returned Thursday by a federal grand jury in Newark charges.
Sgt. Michael Cheff, 49, of Paterson signed off on bogus reports submitted by a group of rogue officers he supervised who routinely violated citizens’ civil rights by stopping and searching them on the street and in vehicles, the indictment says.
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,” U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said.
In 2016, Cheff told one of the officers to start 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,” the U.S. attorney said.
One of three officers who stopped and arrested a suspect on Nov. 14, 2017 stole a few hundred dollars from him, then went to his apartment with Cheff while another remained with the handcuffed civilian, the indictment says.
They got consent to search the apartment by lying to the suspect’s mother, after which Cheff took money and drugs from a safe in the closet of the suspect’s room, it says.
He handed a small portion of the money to one of the officers and told the officer to log it into evidence, then put the rest of the money in his pocket, alleges the indictment returned by a grand jury in U.S. District Court in Newark.
In a bathroom back at headquarters, 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,” Carpenito said.
Cheff also “approved a police report that falsely stated that the officers had recovered $319 from a shelf in the individual’s room” – when, in fact, he’d “stolen a substantial sum of money,” he said.
Later that day, one of the officers sent text messages to another officer discussing the theft.
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,” the U.S. attorney said.
The suspect reported finding $2,700 missing from the safe, he added.
Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI with the investigation leading to the indictment, secured by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal, who is deputy chief of his Criminal Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee M. Cortes Jr., Chief of the Health Care Fraud Unit.
It charges Cheff with conspiring to deprive individuals of civil rights under color of law and with falsifying a police report.
The FBI arrested Cheff on a criminal complaint alleging the same offenses in January. He remained free pending arraignment on the indictment in U.S. District Court in Newark.
Carpenito thanked the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office and Paterson Police Department – in particular, the department’s Office of Internal Affairs -- for their assistance.
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