Feb. 27 (UPI) -- A federal grand jury on Thursday charged a New Jersey police sergeant for conspiring with other officers to conduct unwarranted stops and searches to rob people and then approve falsified police reports to cover their tracks.
Sgt. Michael Cheff, 49, of the Paterson Police Department was charged Thursday in a two-count indictment with conspiring to deprive individuals of civil rights, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted, and falsifying a police report, which comes with a penalty of 20 years in prison. The maximum fine for each count is $250,000, the Justice Department said in a press release.
Cheff was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and charged with the same two counts in a criminal complaint on Jan. 7.
According to the indictment, Cheff supervised five officers assigned to the same squad within the Paterson Police Department who conducted a conspiracy to illegally search vehicles, residences and people in Paterson, to steal money and other items, which was split among the officers.
The officers then attempted to conceal their crimes by submitting to Cheff for approval falsified reports and other paperwork that either omitted or lied about their illegal activities, prosecutors said, adding that he would then receive a cut of the stolen money.
The indictment details one instance in November 2017 when Cheff joined three other officers during an arrest of a suspect in Paterson. One of the officers, Jonathan Bustios, is alleged to have stolen several hundred dollars from the suspect during the arrest.
The officers then gained consent to search the suspect's apartment by lying to the suspect's mother, during which Cheff discovered a safe containing around $2,000, which most of it he pocketed, prosecutors said.
The complaint says Cheff gave $319 of the money to Bustios to log into evidence. Cheff then approved the incident report concerning the search of the suspect's residence, stating the money was located on a shelf.
Later, Bustios texted with Frank Toledo, another officer alleged to be apart of the conspiracy, detailing that Cheff "got us for over a stack" that "there was a safe" and that the sergeant had "grabbed the cash," according to the text messages reproduced in the complaint.
The suspect in question later said the safe contained about $2,700, all of which was missing following the search, prosecutors said.
The date of Cheff's arraignment in federal court has yet to be determined.