At least 27 people have been charged with theft from mailboxes in California's Central Valley that resulted in losses estimated at more than $400,000. More charges are pending.
The investigation was launched after a surge in mailbox thefts last year that victimized more than 2,100 people. U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner told The Associated Press that postal and local law enforcement investigators
targeted rings responsible for the thefts, particularly in the Sacramento, Fresno, and Bakersfield areas. Those are the Central Valley’s largest cities.
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Because of the rural nature of the region, many mailboxes are at the end of a long driveway or dirt road, making them especially susceptible to thieves. But crooks also pried open Post Office boxes and multiple-slot postal lock boxes that are common at apartment and condominium complexes. Crooks were after checks, credit cards, and information that could lead to identity theft.
The Bakersfield Californian, quoting Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian K. Delaney, said Operation Mailbox began
after authorities heard from numerous victims who had their mail stolen by a variety of methods. Those methods included “fishing” for mail from collection boxes and breaking into postal delivery trucks and counterfeiting postal keys.
The AP said six people were charged in state courts, and 21 others were charged on the federal level. Nine of the federal defendants have been sentenced to up to four years in prison each. Theft or possession of stolen mail carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Officials say the region’s methamphetamine problem may have contributed to the thefts.
“Where there’s meth, there’s mail (theft), and there is a correlation between those who are on substance abuse and going out to do things to accommodate their habit. And it just so happens that mail theft is one of those things,” Gregory Campbell Jr., deputy chief postal inspector for the region that includes the Central Valley, told the AP.
The news agency said two rings involving about eight people targeted Sacramento and its surrounding suburbs. Hundreds of pieces of stolen mail were recovered.
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