Report details theft, fraud committed by postal workers

December 7, 2011

The overwhelming majority of the U.S. Postal Service’s 574,000 employees show up for work and deliver and sort mail without a problem — and some get recognized for outstanding work, including even helping to save lives.

But there are bad actors everywhere, and according to a new watchdog report, dozens of postal workers steal mail, burn it, hoard it or claim thousands of dollars in fraudulent workers’ compensation claims.

There’s a Texas letter carrier who earned $207,706 in fraudulent workers’ compensation payments and another who claimed more than $40,000 in Social Security benefits meant for his dead mother. A Kentucky letter carrier pleaded guilty to hoarding more than 3,000 pieces of mail, another buried or burned mail in an abandoned lot.

Details of the cases appear in a semiannual report published this week by the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General that highlights 29 cases of postal employees who violated policies, used illegal drugs on duty, fraudulently collected workers’ compensation funds, broke federal mail laws, or stole money and gift cards sent through the mail between April and September of this year.

Investigations tied to workers’ compensation fraud resulted in saving nearly $65 million, the report said.

In the Texas case, the letter carrier submitted false travel vouchers over five years for about 96,000 miles in medical reimbursable transportation claims, according to the report. Although she submitted reimbursement requests for 480 visits, the letter carrier actually traveled to 13 medical appointments. She was sentenced in August to three years of probation and a year of home confinement and ordered to pay $172,000 in restitution.

In another case, a former Michigan letter carrier was arrested in May and admitted to fraudulently reporting 20 on-the-job injuries over 16 years with the USPS. Investigators determined the letter carrier also was selling real estate while on the job. The letter carrier was ordered to complete 40 hours of community service, to pay about $7,000 in restitution and to never seek future federal employment.

In April, the report said a letter carrier pleaded guilty to Social Security fraud after admitting he had been cashing his dead mother’s benefit checks since her death in 2002. The letter carrier was sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay restitution of $41,635.

Beyond workers’ compensation fraud, the report said a handful of workers also decided to steal mail intended for delivery.

In Maryland, investigators discovered piles of undelivered and burned mail in an abandoned wooden lot. A postal vehicle operator admitted to the crime and was sentenced to six months in prison, six months of home detention, two months of supervised release and 100 hours of community service.

Over two years, the inspector general’s office received numerous complaints that gift cards were not being delivered to some Ohio neighborhoods. Investigators determined that a Cincinnati mail handler stole more than $10,000 in cash and $1,000 in gift cards from letters sent through his work area. The mail handler resigned from the Postal Service and pleaded guilty to mail theft in May.

Beyond that small number of bad actors, however, are the majority of postal workers, who successfully do their jobs. Some get honored for extraordinary efforts.

Last month, the National Association of Letter Carriers bestowed its annual “Hero of the Year” award to workers from California, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma and Virginia who were nominated by colleagues for going above and beyond the call of duty.

The employees who earned the honor helped resuscitate a customer who had difficulty breathing, tracked down a burglar, provided eyewitness testimony to police, rescued an elderly customer from her burning home, helped rescue two people whose vehicle was submerged in a swimming pool, gave a young boy with inoperable cancer the chance to be a letter carrier for a day and participated in a medical mission to the Dominican Republic.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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