167.9 billion pieces of mail were delivered by the Postal Service last year. The vast majority make it to their destination safely, but some - including a group of Treasury Department checks - were stolen by two Postal Service employees and their accomplices.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night could stop these postal employees from stealing checks.
The former supervisor at an Atlanta mail distribution facility, a coworker and four others pled guilty this month to stealing $3 million in U.S. Treasury checks, including veterans benefits, tax refunds and Social Security checks. By the time authorities figured out the scheme, the small theft ring had stolen or cashed 1,300 federal checks, officials said.
And the Georgia workers aren't alone. Between April and September of this year, 171 Postal Service employees were arrested for theft, willful delay or destruction of mail, according to a new report by the USPS inspector general. The Service has about 546,000 employees.
The two employees pled guilty to conspiracy and theft of government money. Eason pleaded guilty to several other charges including possession of stolen Treasury checks. There's a wide range of jail time they could be serving, though. Each charge carries anywhere from five to 30 years in prison.
Investigators became aware there was a problem in December 2010, USPS Office of Inspector General spokeswoman Agapi Doulaveris said. Federal agents watched and investigated Eason and his accomplices before they were arrested in early March, Doulaveris said.
"Eason and Fambro-Echols reflect just a very small percentage of employees who failed to uphold the trust and integrity placed in them," said Paul Bowman, the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General's special agent in charge. "The majority of Postal Service employees are honest, hardworking, and committed to providing the timely and reliable service that customers expect and deserve."
Four other defendants also pled guilty to helping the Atlanta scheme, including cashing the stolen checks, acting as brokers and using fake ID's. Two were arrested in a Georgia bank when they tried to impersonate the intended recipient of the check. None of the four are U.S. Postal Service employees.
In 2011, Georgia "ranked third in the country in the number of federal tax refund, Social Security, and Veterans checks reported stolen by their intended recipients," Yates said, prompting the creation of the U.S. Attorney's Stolen Treasury Check Task Force, a coalition of 14 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate the problem of stolen checks in northern Georgia.
The Post Office is facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit and is looking for ways to save money, but Doulaveris said any measures aren't expected to affect investigations and the service's ability to respond to illegal behavior.
"Congress has been careful with our budget and that of other Offices of Inspectors General to preserve our capacity to fight fraud and misconduct, and we are thankful for that," she said. "We believe that it is a smart move on the part of Congress because one, it is a good return on investment; and two, once fraud gets out of control, it becomes expensive to put in back under control."
The United States Postal Service, or USPS, is the nation's mail delivery service. It originated in 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was named the first Postmaster General, and was also referenced in the Constitution as being a needed government agency.
The Treasury Department is the federal government's fiscal and monetary agency, charged with overseeing economic policy, coordinating government funds and helping to regulate banks.
The Justice Department, or DOJ, is the federal government's law enforcement arm that oversees agencies like the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration.