A tray of mail at the U.S. Postal Service Processing and Distribution Center in San Francisco in 2013. (Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

The adage about the U.S. Postal Service delivering the mail in snow, rain, heat and gloom of night leaves out an exception — thieving postal employees.

Before we get to the dirt, let’s stipulate that the vast majority of postal workers are conscientious, law-abiding folks who are diligent under difficult conditions. That’s why information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California is so eye-catching.

Thirty-three people, mostly postal employees, have been charged with a variety of offenses, including mail theft, failure to deliver mail and embezzlement.

In one case, a letter carrier from Los Angeles, Sherry Naomi Watanabe, stashed nearly 50,000 pieces of mail in her home, according to her plea agreement. There’s no word on whether she was too lazy to do her route or was a compulsive hoarder who couldn’t bear to let go of mail, even if it didn’t belong to her.

The plea agreement provides no motive, but says she “variously disposed of United States mail, or collected large quantities of such mail in her apartment.” Officials found 48,288 pieces of mail she “unlawfully secreted … destroyed, detained, and delayed. These mail items were entrusted to defendant to deliver in her capacity as a mail carrier for the Garden Grove Post Office.”

Watanabe and the others were charged “as part of a sweep targeting criminal activity that has victimized” the U.S. Postal Service, according to the Justice Department, but the cases were not otherwise linked. “The packaging of cases is not widespread but does happen on occasion and serves as a deterrent that misconduct is not tolerated in the USPS,” said Glenn S. San Jose, deputy special agent in charge of the USPS inspector general’s Pacific area field office. “The overwhelming majority of Postal Service employees are honest and hard-working, but when misconduct occurs, appropriate action will be taken.”

A particularly mean theft, allegedly by Nicole Elwood of Atascadero, Calif., left veterans without their meds. She was charged with “stealing mail items containing medications, including medications sent from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to veterans.”

Norman A. Muschamp, a letter carrier in Los Angeles, was charged with using information belonging to identity-theft victims to get prepaid PayPal debit cards that were sent to phony addresses along his route. The debit cards were used to purchase items at Walmart stores worth more than $2,900 on each of at least five occasions.

Jarol Garcia, formerly a mail handler at the Moreno Valley Delivery Distribution Center, stole “multiple cellular telephones from parcels he opened,” according to a federal indictment dated Thursday. Garcia allegedly traded the phones for valuable items, including shoes and tickets using the OfferUp website. In December, authorities found 166 pilfered cellphones in Garcia’s possession.

“Defendant Garcia knew that said mail was stolen,” reads the dry language of the indictment. According to the Justice Department, Garcia also is former local president of the Mail Handlers Union. The national union office had no comment on Garcia’s indictment.

Gary Nygard of Mission Hills allegedly found a way to get diesel fuel for free. But ultimately he is paying a price. Nygard, a former contract driver, is charged with siphoning about 385 gallons of diesel fuel, paid for by the Postal Service, from contractor trucks.

“The criminal charges filed against these Postal Service employees are very concerning,” said David A. Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman. “While we cannot comment on the specifics of this case because the matter is currently under investigation, we can state that this type of alleged behavior within the Postal Service is neither tolerated nor condoned. Moreover, the Postal Service can proudly state that the overwhelming majority of the Postal Service’s more than 636,000 employees are honest, hardworking and trustworthy individuals who would never engage in criminal behavior.”

Yet, as the California arrests show, criminal activity among those we trust to handle and deliver our mail is not unknown. During the six-month period that ended March 31, “we completed 2,069 investigations that led to 391 arrests and $21.1 million in fines, restitutions, and recoveries, $5.28 million of which was turned over to the Postal Service,” Tammy L. Whitcomb, USPS acting inspector general, said in her Semiannual Report to Congress.

Stealing mail is bad enough, but it also leads to bigger crimes.

“Maintaining its integrity is vital,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “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.”

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