Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested a New Jersey police sergeant accused of participating in a conspiracy to steal thousands of dollars from suspects of drug cases, authorities said.
The Department of Justice said Paterson Police Department Sgt. Michael Cheff, 49, was arrested Tuesday on civil rights and falsifying police report charges for stealing money and drugs from suspects who were illegally stopped and searched.
Cheff is the eighth and highest-ranking officer arrested in connection to a three-year FBI corruption investigation, said Paterson Police Department Director Jerry Speziale.
"We will never accept this as indicative of the hardworking men and women who serve [the Paterson Police Department] with integrity daily," he said.
According to the criminal complaint, officers would routinely steal money from drivers and passengers of vehicles and then pass along a portion of the proceeds to Cheff who would sign off on false police reports that omitted the illegal seizures of cash.
The Department of Justice accuses Cheff in the complaint of having instructed officers to log into evidence a portion of the money that they stole as conducting narcotics arrests without documenting any seizure of cash would raise questions.
Authorities said in one instance in November 2017, three officers illegally searched a vehicle and stole several hundred dollars from the handcuffed suspect before driving to the suspect's house where he lived with his mother.
While one officer stayed with the handcuffed suspect in the police cruiser, Cheff joined the other two officers and entered the apartment where they gained permission to search the premises from the suspect's mother, according to the criminal complaint.
A safe was found in the closet of the suspect's room from which Cheff stole money and narcotics before handing a portion of the ill-gotten gains to two officers to be placed into evidence.
"Cheff kept the remainder of the cash," authorities said in the criminal complaint. The suspect told the authorities there was $2,700 in the safe while $319 was logged into evidence.
Later in a Paterson police station bathroom, Cheff divided the money among the officers who participated in the illegal search and seizure, authorities said.
"It is deeply troubling when an officer who has sworn to uphold the law violates his oath and uses his badge as a license to commit a crime," Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie said in a statement. "It is doubly so when that officer not only supervises others who are engaging in illegal activity but also -- as these charges allege -- participates."
Four cooperating witnesses in the case against Cheff have pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to perform illegal search and seizures to steal money, according to the criminal complaint.
If convicted, Cheff faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for the conspiring to violate civil rights charge and 20 years in prison for the false records charge.