Cheff’s trial began on Wednesday. Five of the men he supervised—Matthew Torres, Jonathan Bustios, Daniel Pent, Frank Toledo, and Eudy Ramos— testified for the prosecution as part of their plea deals. Suh said an “arrangement” was made between Cheff and his officers to protect them.
That alleged “arrangement” resulted in Bustios, Pent, Toledo, Ramos, and two other officers pleading guilty to the kind of crimes that make for the better crime dramas on TV.
“I guess you become desensitized with everything that was going on,” Toledo testified on Monday. “It gets to the point where you find humor in it. Obviously, looking back on it now, it wasn’t right.”
Former police officer Ruben McAusland was the first of the seven to plead guilty, on June 27, 2018. He admitted to stealing approximately 35 grams of marijuana, 48 grams of heroin, 31 grams of cocaine, and 31 grams of crack cocaine from a crime scene while on duty, then selling the drugs. McAusland also admitted to responding to a call about someone who tried to kill himself by tracking the man down at a hospital and beating him so badly he had to get eye surgery. McAusland’s partner, Roger Then, was next to plead guilty for helping conceal the assault. He was sentenced to six months in prison, according to the New Jersey district of the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Then came Bustios’ plea in December of 2018. He pleaded guilty to one count each of extortion and conspiring to violate the civil rights of drivers.
He said in court statements and case files that from 2016 to 2018 he and Ramos, another officer who eventually pleaded guilty to federal charges, targeted drivers they believed to be carrying money and seized the cash with no legal basis. “They then split the cash among themselves and submitted false reports to the Paterson Police Department omitting the illegal vehicle stops and their thefts or lying about them,” the New Jersey district of the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a news release.
In an incident on March 14, 2018, Bustios admitted to threatening someone he detained with theft as well as a resisting arrest charge if he did not produce a gun. “I ain’t gonna charge you with resisting, and I’m letting you keep your money, bro,” Bustios reportedly told the person. “If you don’t wanna make the deal, you don’t have to make the deal.”
Bustios kept his promise and after finding the gun, he kept it without turning it in to the police department, the New Jersey district reported.
And the charges and guilty pleas just kept coming.
Pent and other officers stopped and searched vehicles without cause, stole cash from those inside, and also applied what’s dubbed a “running tax” to suspects who ran from them, the New Jersey district of the U.S. Attorney’s Office reported in a news release. If anyone ran from them, Pent and others would “tax” the person by striking them multiple times, the federal office said.
Zellie Mani, a teacher and Black Lives Matter activist who’s been following the case, called the revelation “explosive” in a tweet on Monday. “The assaults on those who tried to escape from them they called the ‘running tax.’ Their probable cause for illegal motor vehicle searches was ‘DWB,’ or driving while black. Paterson police,” Mani tweeted.