Paterson Police Officer Matthew Torres admitted in federal court on Monday that he conspired with four other city cops to commit civil rights crimes by shaking down motorists for cash during illegal traffic stops.
Three of the officers named in Torres’ guilty plea — Jonathan Bustios, Daniel Pent and Eudy Ramos — already have been arrested, and Bustios pleaded guilty last December.
But federal authorities have not revealed the name of the fifth cop who allegedly participated in the shakedowns. Court documents released Monday in conjunction with Torres’ guilty plea simply identified him as “PPD Officer 1.”
Federal authorities said Torres and other rogue officers used the code word “mangoes” to describe the money they illegally took from people. The rogue cops sometimes used fake paperwork to trick their victims into believing that the cash seizures and vehicle stops represented legitimate law enforcement work, according to the United States Attorney’s Office.
Torres, who is 30, and the other officers also stopped and searched people on the streets of Paterson, and illegally took their money, federal authorities said. To cover up their criminal activity, the conspirators filed false police reports.
Torres’ guilty plea covered one particular instance in December 2017 when he admitted taking $800 from a passenger in a vehicle he said he and Ramos had stopped while on duty in Paterson.
The five officers were part of the same patrol squad and usually worked a shift together that started at 4:30 a.m. and ended at 3:45 p.m., federal authorities said. The crimes allegedly started in 2016 and continued until April 2018.
In many instances, the rogue officers targeted suspected drug dealers who they expected would be carrying large amounts of money and would not be inclined to report the crimes, according to city law enforcement officials. Many of the traffic stops took place in high-crime neighborhoods outside the areas the renegade cops were assigned to patrol, officials said.
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Lawyers in the case said they expect that Bustios and Torres have agreed to testify against their alleged co-conspirators if any of the other cases go to trial.
Pent’s attorney, Michael Calabro, said he and federal authorities are engaged in negotiations about a possible plea agreement for his client.
“We’re going to be meeting again soon,” Calabro said.
Torres’ sentencing has been scheduled for Sept. 9. He faces a maximum of 10 years on the conspiracy to commit civil rights violations charge and a maximum 20 years on the filing false reports crime, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Torres, who was arrested last December, is being fired as a result of his guilty plea, officials said. Bustios already has been fired as a result of his guilty plea. He also is awaiting sentencing. Ramos has been indicted on civil rights charges involving the alleged shakedowns. Pent was arrested earlier this year on charges stemming from the alleged illegal traffic stops.
City officials said both Ramos and Pent are on paid administrative leave.
Two other cops have been sentenced to federal prison in the FBI’s probe.
Ruben McAusland was sentenced to 66 months after he admitted selling drugs — including transactions that happened inside his police vehicle while he was on duty and in uniform. McAusland also admitted assaulting a suicide patient in the emergency room at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson.
McAusland’s partner, Roger Then, pleaded guilty to participating in the hospital assault, and his video-recording of the attack was part of the evidence used by federal authorities in the case. He has been sentenced to six months in prison.
McAusland’s sentence is scheduled to start next week, while Then is supposed to surrender in July.
A seventh officer, Frank Toledo, was suspended without pay for several weeks last summer as a result of the FBI probe, city officials have said. After his suspension, Toledo returned to work as a police officer, but he has been on leave as of April 21, sources said. He has not been charged with any crimes.