Dozens of people have been charged in California in connection with a sweep that targeted crimes against the U.S. Postal Service and its customers, federal authorities announced Friday.
A majority of the 33 defendants were Postal Service employees, including one who is accused of hoarding tens of thousands of pieces of mail, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The defendants — charged across 28 cases — are suspected of various crimes. About half of the cases involve mail theft or possession of stolen mail by Postal Service workers and contractors, the release stated. Among the items stolen were video games, cellphones, and prescription medications.
Other USPS employees have been charged with embezzlement, bank fraud, false statements and conspiracy.
Five of the cases involved non-employees, according to the Justice Department.
One of the defendants, a former local area president of the Mail Handlers Union, is accused of stealing 166 cellphones from the mail and trying to exchange an unknown number of the items online. Jarol Garcia, 33, has been charged with conspiracy and possession of stolen mail, the release stated.
The crimes are alleged to have occurred when Garcia worked as a mail handler at the Moreno Valley Delivery Distribution Center.
One female postal carrier from the Sawtelle District of Los Angeles, 48-year-old Sherry Naomi Watanabe, allegedly was found to have 48,000 pieces of mail at her home that were supposed to be delivered to customers along her Placentia route, the release said, citing a plea agreement.
In another case, a mail carrier from the Mid-City District was accused of being part of a conspiracy to steal identities to order pre-paid PayPal debit cards. Norman A. Muschamp, 48, allegedly obtained the debit cards from the mail, then delivered them for cash to co-conspirators, according to the Justice Department.
The scheme is believed to have resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Muschamp was charged with conspiracy to commit access device fraud and steal mail.
“The mail system plays an important role in our country’s commerce and social communication. Maintaining its integrity is vital,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said in the release. “Mail theft across Southern California has increased recently, which is significant since this type of crime tends to be a precursor to other crimes like identity theft and drug offenses. As a result, we are stepping up enforcement activities, including dealing aggressively with corruption within the Postal Service.”
The defendants come from across California, including Long Beach, Carson, Wilmington, West Covina, Diamond Bar and Lake Elsinore.
They will be arraigned in U.S. District courts in Los Angeles, Santa Ana and Riverside.