NEWARK — None of the people who were robbed and beaten by a rogue crew of Paterson cops were sitting in a federal courtroom on Friday afternoon as two of the offenders got their prison terms.
But the judge and federal prosecutors referred to the victims several times during the proceedings in which Frank Toledo was sentenced to two years in prison and Daniel Pent 18 months.
“The people of Paterson need to know that Mr. Toledo … is paying his debt to them for what he did to them,” said United States District Court Judge Katharine Hayden.
Later, Assistant United States Attorney Jihee Suh highlighted a 2015 incident in which she said Pent responded to a noise complaint and beat a man so severely, he was hospitalized with a broken eye socket.
The man filed an Internal Affairs complaint about the attack, said Suh. But Paterson’s in-house police investigators determined that Pent had done nothing wrong, the prosecutor added.
“They lied and they covered up so that the Internal Affairs investigation went nowhere,” Suh said. “We can’t ignore the impact on that individual victim,” she added.
The crooked cops previously testified that they targeted suspected drug dealers who were less likely to file complaints. Hayden said it didn’t matter if all the money stolen by the self-proclaimed “robbery squad” had been drug proceeds. The rogue officers, she said, had no reason to stop and search the people they preyed upon.
Toledo and Pent in 2019 had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate individuals’ civil rights, using unreasonable and excessive force in violation of individuals’ civil rights, and filing a false police report.
Three other participants in the conspiracy of rogues were sentenced on Thursday. Jonathan Bustios and Eudy Ramos got two-year prison terms, while Matthew Torres was given probation.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, all five of them faced prison terms between 30 months and 37 months.
But the United States Attorney’s Office had asked for reduced prison time for the crooked cops as part of a deal in which they testified against their supervisor, Sgt. Michael Cheff, who was convicted of overseeing the conspiracy in a trial in May.
Cheff is scheduled for sentencing on Monday morning.
In determining that Torres should not go to prison, Hayden noted that he witnessed assaults by his crooked cronies but did not inflict any of the blows. She also said he showed “genuine moral distress” about the crimes and had contacted authorities about the wrongdoing.
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Hayden on Friday said she decided to send Pent to federal prison for 18 months, a lesser penalty than what was imposed on three of his co-conspirators, because he requested and got himself transferred from the “B1” squad of cops who were committing the crimes.
Pent’s lawyer, Michael Calabro, said his client had “an epiphany” after he returned from a six-month paid leave, time off that was necessitated by an autumn 2017 incident in which Pent shot a man who had fired at him. Being away from the job gave Pent time to reflect on how he dishonored his childhood dream of becoming a police officer.
“He did this on his own,” Calabro said of Pent’s transfer request. “He self-rehabilitated.”
Pent spoke briefly during his sentencing while his two young children — a toddler and an infant — squirmed in the front row of the courtroom with their mother. He apologized to the people of Paterson.
“I took an oath to protect and serve them,” he said. “They deserve better. I failed them.”
Pent said he had “no excuses” for his wrongdoing and said all he could do was promise to continue “being a better person.”
In his 2019 guilty plea, Pent admitted imposing “running tax” beatings on suspects who tried to flee from him. He also said he had taken $10,000 from a passenger during a traffic stop in 2017.
Meanwhile, Toledo was sobbing throughout his lengthy courtroom statement as he talked about the difficulties of his childhood and traumatic incidents of his adult years, including fatally shooting a suspect.
Toledo said he eventually turned to his fellow rogue officers for “a safety net” as he “went against the oath that I once so proudly took.” The disgraced cop also said he regretted committing crimes that further undermined the trust between cops and the community at a time when there has been “great tension” involving law enforcement.
Toledo’s lawyer, Dennis Cleary, asked Hayden to consider not sending his client to prison. The judge acknowledged the “heartfelt letters” from Toledo’s wife, mother and other family members.
But Hayden said she needed to keep in mind the victims who were beaten and robbed by Toledo and the other members of the “robbery squad” of rogue cops.
In his statement, Toledo said Paterson police officials forced him to return to work sooner than he was ready for after he was involved in a fatal shooting in March 2017.
In that incident, Toledo shot a knife-wielding man who lunged at his partner, Torres. The man, 37-year-old Ramon Andrade, died about two weeks later.
“I tried to make an effort not to be influenced by the negativity in the department,” Toledo said in court on Friday. “I feel as though the department failed me.”
Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Kearney acknowledged the difficulties that Toledo went through but said they didn’t give him an excuse to commit his crimes.
“Those hardships can’t justify the actions that Mr. Toledo was taking in 2017 and 2018,” Kearney said.
The prosecutor also took exception with Toledo blaming the Paterson police department for his wrongdoing.
“There were still officers doing things the right way,” Kearney said. “There were sergeants who were not stealing money. There were other avenues other than adapting to the ways of the ‘robbery squad.’”
Toledo was the member of the “robbery squad” who sent the infamous “Everything we do is illegal” text message to one of his crooked cronies. In trial testimony and his guilty plea, Toledo has admitted robbing money from suspected drug dealers — crimes the rogue cops called “mango hunting” — and covering up his wrongdoing by filing bogus police reports.
Toledo also confessed to using unreasonable and excessive force on people in Paterson, including one instance in 2017 in which he knocked a juvenile to the ground and punched him several times.
“I’ve been borderline blacking out when I catch these n[ ],” Toledo said in one text message made public by the United States Attorney’s Office. “I beat that n[ ] like he owed me money.”
Toledo went on to say that when he was hitting the teenager, he “was no longer a cop.”
Ramos had admitted conspiring to deprive individuals of their civil rights, to using unreasonable and excessive force against individuals in Paterson, and to filing a false police report. Bustios pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive individuals of their civil rights and to extortion, while Torres admitted to conspiring to deprive individuals of their civil rights and to filing a false police report.
The FBI probe began investigating Paterson police in 2016 and made its first arrests in the case in 2018. The federal investigation also resulted in federal prison for two Paterson cops who were not directly involved with the “robbery squad.”
FBI agents seeking information about the illegal shakedowns learned about another patrol officer, Ruben McAusland, who was selling drugs from his Paterson police vehicle while on-duty.
The FBI gathered video and audio recordings of McAusland’s frequent drug sales over the course of months and arrested him in April 2018. McAusland’s apprehension triggered another case.
Investigators found on McAusland’s cellphone a video recording of him and his police partner, Roger Then, assaulting a suicide patient at a hospital emergency room in March 2018. McAusland and Then eventually pleaded guilty to their crimes.
McAusland was sentenced to 66 months in federal prison after admitting the drug dealing and hospital attack. He currently is being held at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Michigan and is scheduled for release in March 2024. Then served a six-month prison term for his role in the ER incident and was released in early 2020.
Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org