MILWAUKEE – It was not just one federal postal employee stealing cash, checks and gift cards destined for people living in the Milwaukee area.
A total of four U.S. Postal Service employees – two carriers and a sorter all working at the Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, post office and another worker in a central sorting facility – stole mail bound for residents in Wauwatosa and the west side of Milwaukee.
All have been charged in federal court, and none continues to work for the Postal Service, according to a postal official.
One of the defendants targeted cash donations to the Breast Cancer Research and Support Fund, stealing most of it in October because it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, court records show. Donations meant for veterans and police officers supporting groups also were targeted.
With three cases of theft at the same facility, there would have to be a connection, right?
"That's what we thought of at first, too, but we have found no collusion," said Jeff Arney, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General in Chicago. "It just so happened we had them in the same post office."
Arney said while most employees are not breaking the law, agents aggressively pursue reports of possible mail theft by federal workers.
There have been 10 such charged cases in the Eastern District of Wisconsin in the past three years, according to federal court records. Nationally, there were 232 people charged in federal courts between Oct. 1, 2017, and March 31, 2018, according to a Postal Service Inspector General report to Congress.
Cash, gift cards and checks missing
Last week, Ebony L. Smith pleaded guilty to stealing mail, admitting that she rifled through more than 6,600 pieces of mail, stealing money and gift cards in the past two years, according to her plea agreement.
In August, Lavonda K. Wright pleaded guilty to the same crime. Wright admitted to stealing gift cards from mail she was delivering to the 53210 ZIP code on Milwaukee's west side for more than a year, according to her plea agreement.
Unlike in Smith's case, there is no indication of how many pieces of mail Wright opened and stole from.
Postal authorities were alerted to Wright's possible theft after a $100 gift card from Trader Joe's was reported missing, according to court records.
Investigators learned Wright was a suspect after they found evidence she used the gift card at a Trader Joe's. They set up what is described as "integrity test" mail, and in two of the instances, Wright stole the planted gift cards.
Both women are set to be sentenced, by different judges, in December. Both face up to five years in prison, but it would be highly unlikely they would get such time under federal sentencing guidelines.
The prosecutor is recommending probation for Wright and a prison sentence of less than a year for Smith, according to court documents. Both women have agreed to pay restitution.
Tina Jenkins began working as a mail sorter at the Wauwatosa facility in November 2016. Another employee saw Jenkins rifling through mail and putting envelopes in her purse. Investigators set up a test and Jenkins took a premarked $20 bill, according to her plea agreement.
In June, Jenkins was sentenced to two years' probation by U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller. She also was ordered to pay $1,200 in restitution to the Breast Cancer Research & Support Fund and the National Police & Trooper Association.
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