United did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Chicago-based airline has been ferrying Americans’ mail since it was founded in 1926.
“United was entrusted by the U.S. Postal Service with fulfilling a critical government function — the transportation of U.S. mail abroad,” according to a statement from Nicholas L. McQuaid, acting assistant attorney general in the criminal division. “Instead of performing this duty with transparency, United defrauded the U.S. Postal Service by providing falsified parcel delivery information over a period of years and accepting millions of dollars of payments to which the company was not entitled. Today’s resolution emphasizes that companies that defraud the government — no matter the context, contract, or federal program — will be held accountable.”
However, similar practices are pervasive in the mail service, according to postal workers and internal data obtained by The Washington Post. Package delivery data is routinely falsified, they say, to avoid being labeled as late, and the practice appears to have intensified as Americans did more online ordering during the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this week, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy appeared before Congress to discuss his plan to address the agency’s precipitous service declines since the summer. DeJoy slashed overtime and dramatically reduced mail processing capabilities soon after taking over the financially beleaguered agency, moves deemed by an inspector general’s audit to reflect a lack of preparation or concern for how they might affect service.
“The USPS contracts with commercial airlines for the safeguarding and timely delivery of U.S. mail to foreign posts, including the mail sent to our soldiers deployed to foreign operating bases,” Steven Stuller, of the agency’s inspector general’s office, said in a statement. “The Office of Inspector General supports the Postal Service by aggressively investigating allegations of contractual non-compliance within the mail delivery process, including the falsification of delivery information. Our special agents worked hand-in-hand with the Department of Justice to help ensure a reasonable resolution and we applaud the exceptional work done by the investigative and legal teams.”
United lost more than $7 billion in 2020 as the coronavirus slashed global travel and decimated the travel industry. Now, it’s trying to cut another $2 billion in costs by 2023, the airline said in its latest earnings report. Collectively, U.S. carriers lost more than $35 billion last year, CNBC reported, putting a sudden stop to nearly a decade of growth for the airline industry.
“Aggressively managing the challenges of 2020 depended on our innovation and fast-paced decision-making. But, the truth is that COVID-19 has changed United Airlines forever,” chief executive Scott Kirby said in the company’s fourth quarter earnings report.
United agreed to pay more than $17 million to settle the criminal investigation and another $32 million in civil penalties for the payments it collected under the false data, the Justice Department said. The carrier also said it would strengthen its reporting requirements and beef up its compliance program.