A Paterson Police Department sergeant was sentenced today to 33 months in prison for conspiring to violate civil rights and filing a false police report, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.
Michael Cheff, 51, of Oakland, New Jersey, was convicted May 26, 2022, following a five-day trial before U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden on one count of conspiracy to deprive persons of civil rights and one count of falsification of a police report. Judge Hayden imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.
“It’s a sad day when we have to announce the sentencing of a law enforcement official who has violated his oath, as we do today,” U.S. Attorney Sellinger said. “This defendant preyed on the public he had sworn to protect and violated the rights of citizens in the process, all to line his pockets and those of the officers he was supposed to be supervising. We work hand-in-hand with our local law enforcement partners, and those partnerships are critical to our work. We will not tolerate the few bad officers who tarnish the badge.”
“Whether local, state, or federal, those of us who carry a badge have to prove ourselves worthy every single day,” FBI Special Agent in Charge James Dennehy, Newark Division, said. “This defendant not only betrayed his badge and the public who entrusted him with it, he led his subordinates down a path of self-destruction and left his fellow officers to deal with the fallout. We value the strong partnerships we have with our local and state counterparts. Officers who betray their oath are few and far between and we are committed to protecting the integrity of the badge to benefit those who work hard to protect it, as well as protect the general public.”
According to documents filed in this case and evidence at trial:
Eudy Ramos, Daniel Pent, Jonathan Bustios, Matthew Torres, and Frank Toledo were police officers with the Paterson Police Department. Cheff, who was a sergeant, supervised their activities and approved their reports and other paperwork related to arrests and seizures of money, narcotics, and firearms. Ramos, Pent, Bustios, Torres, and Toledo, while on official duty, violated the civil rights of individuals in Paterson. They stopped and searched motor vehicles without any justification and stole cash and other items from the occupants. They also illegally stopped and searched individuals in buildings or on the streets of Paterson and seized cash from them. They concealed their activities by submitting to Cheff false reports that omitted, or falsified, their illegal activities. Cheff signed off on those false police reports and routinely received a portion of these stolen monies from some of these officers.
On Nov. 14, 2017, Cheff joined Bustios, Ramos, and Torres in stealing cash from an apartment in Paterson. Bustios, Ramos, and Torres stopped and arrested an individual in Paterson. The officers went to the individual’s apartment and were joined by Cheff. After the arrested individual was coerced to sign a consent to search form, and while the arrested individual was handcuffed in a police car, Cheff, Bustios, and Ramos went to search the individual’s apartment. After obtaining consent to search the apartment by lying to the individual’s mother, Cheff, Bustios, and Ramos then searched the individual’s room and located a safe inside the room. Cheff took money and narcotics from the safe and put the money in his pocket. Cheff handed a small portion of the money stolen from the safe to Bustios and told Bustios to log it into evidence. Cheff also approved a police report that falsely stated that the officers had recovered $319 from on top of a shelf in the individual’s room.
Later that day, Bustios and Toledo exchanged text messages discussing Cheff’s theft of money. Bustios 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.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Hayden sentenced Cheff to three years of supervised release. Ramos, Pent, Bustios, Torres, and Toledo previously pleaded guilty; Toledo and Pent were sentenced Sept. 9, 2022, and Bustios, Torres and Ramos were sentenced Sept. 8, 2022.
U.S. Attorney Sellinger credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Dennehy in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing. He also thanked the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes, and the Paterson Police Department Office of Internal Affairs, for their assistance.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jihee G. Suh, Deputy Chief of the Special Prosecutions Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas S. Kearney of the Special Prosecutions Division.
Defense counsel: John Lynch Esq., Union City, New Jersey and Paulette Pitt Esq., Woodbridge, New Jersey