Some local stores got a big bargain on postage stamps last year.
And 10 Buffalo residents could wind up in federal prison for giving it to them.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service arrested 10 men and women on Monday, accusing them of buying postage stamps with $35,750 in checks that turned out to be fraudulent.
Authorities believe the defendants then sold the stamps, at bargain rates, to local stores. The stores, in turn, sold them to the public at a nice profit.
"At this point, we haven't found out what stores the stamps were sold to. The investigation is continuing," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin J. Littlefield. "If we can show the stores were knowingly buying stamps that had been obtained by fraud, we can prosecute them."
A government complaint charged a General Motors retiree, Edward Freely Sr., 63, of Fox Street, with felony counts of theft of public property and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Arrested on the same charges were nine alleged associates of Freely, all of them Buffalo residents. They are: Chnell Benjamin, 25; Kimberly Lester-Benjamin, 43; Ernest Cameron, 26; Jeremy Wright, 19; Shannon Wright, 20; Lorraine Wright, 43; Tekoa Jordan, 20; Deidre Buckingham, 44; and Shawn Daniels, 25. They appeared briefly before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott.
According to court papers, the defendants used checks written on overdrawn accounts last year to purchase stamps at local U.S. Postal Service outlets. Last Nov. 21, Buffalo Police arrested Freely after he tried to buy $370 worth of stamps with a bad check at the Main Post Office, 1200 William St.
Littlefield said he could not explain why the Postal Service accepted so many bad checks, but he pointed out that the defendants are accused of using a "check kiting" scheme that made it temporarily appear that their accounts were not overdrawn.
The Postal Service does accept personal checks and it keeps a list of people who pass bad checks, said Karen Mazurkiewicz, a Buffalo spokeswoman.