A Washington Post newspaper deliveryman broke into mailboxes in an upscale Haymarket retirement community and s took nearly $100,000 in checks, cash, coins and gift cards, according to authorities and court papers.
Robert E. Bell III of Dale City was charged with one count each of breaking into a mailbox and of stealing mail at the 55-and-older Regency at Dominion Valley retirement community, according to authorities and court papers filed in Alexandria federal district court. Bell, 31, could face up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine on the two felony charges. A court date has not been scheduled.
Bell did not try to cash checks he collected, U.S. Postal Inspection Service spokesman Tom Ouellette said.
Residents in the gated community have complained since 2010 about mail that had disappeared from an outgoing mailbox, according to court papers. That corresponds with Bell’s employment in the area, court papers say.
Shannon Quill, Bell’s attorney, declined to comment. Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti said in an e-mail that Bell is not an employee of The Washington Post but works as a subcontractor. Bell has since been fired by that company, she said. Ouellette and Coratti said they did not know the company’s name.
Regency at Dominion Valley is a private enclave, and only those authorized to be on the property are allowed to enter a gate manned by a security guard. The community’s general manager declined to comment.
Several people at the neighborhood’s clubhouse said recently that many residents had heard about the thefts and were surprised by the news.
Ouellette said break-ins at private communities are “exceptionally rare,” because so few people have access to the mailboxes.
“These aren’t mailboxes attached to people’s homes or even at the end of a driveway,” Ouellette said. “The only way anybody could get to it is if they have access. Only residents can get in, with few exceptions. And this newspaper deliveryman just happened to be one of those exceptions.”
As part of their investigation, postal inspectors in August set up a hidden camera near an outgoing mailbox on Royal Crest Drive, court papers say. The camera recorded, within the span of a week, Bell breaking into the outgoing mail unit five times and removing several pieces of mail.
Authorities don’t think Bell was involved in crimes elsewhere, Ouellette said.
Ouellette said that most residents appear to have made the right decision not to send cash through the mail, instead opting for checks or money orders, which are more secure.
“It absolutely could have been worse,” he said of the thefts.