Local postal service stamped with rash of carrier crimes - The Buffalo News
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Local postal service stamped with rash of carrier crimes

That old but unofficial mail carrier motto, the one inscribed on the facade of the James Farley Post Office in Manhattan, makes prominent mention of rain, snow, heat and gloom of night.

What it doesn’t mention is greed and poor judgment, two obstacles of late for a few local postal workers trying to complete their appointed rounds.

Over the course of one week this month, three U.S. Postal Service carriers appeared in Buffalo federal court and admitted stealing or destroying mail they were supposed to deliver.

And that was after two other carriers pleaded guilty or were sentenced for similar crimes earlier this year, and after two postmasters – one in Lawtons, the other in Frewsburg – garnered headlines last year for stealing cash.

No one involved in these cases suggests an epidemic of wrongdoing in the U.S. Postal Service, but even prosecutors admit the recent rash of convictions surprised them.

“Unfortunately, a few abuse the public trust placed in them,” said Special Agent Scott Balfour of the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General.

Like any large employer, the Postal Service has bad employees but, by any standard, the week of Aug. 10 was a tough one for Western New York mail carriers.

On Tuesday, a Black Rock carrier caught on video tossing mail into a garbage tote was sentenced to time served.

Two days later, a carrier from Cheektowaga was fined $250 after being spotted dumping 191 Bed Bath and Beyond mailers into a dumpster.

The weeklong string ended Friday when another carrier, this one from Cuba, N.Y., received three years’ probation for stealing cash out of greeting cards he was supposed to deliver.

None of the crimes, most of them misdemeanors, would normally raise an eyebrow in federal court, but when three occurred in one week and the defendants are public employees, judges tend to take notice.

“People rely on the mail,” U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara said during one sentencing last week. “People have trust in the mail.” Arcara, who has spent his career in public service, is known as a judge who believes passionately in the public trust, and he has been known to lecture defendants who violate it.

“Why is your client a thief?” he asked one of the defense lawyers representing a carrier last week.

Given the size of the Postal Service’s operations here, it’s not surprising there are dishonest employees. There are nearly 5,200 postal workers in Western New York, and prosecutors say the overwhelming majority are honest, conscientious employees.

It’s the bad ones, they say, who unfairly tarnish the post office and make it an easy target for critics.

“We take extremely seriously any allegation that the people’s mails are being tampered with or destroyed,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr.

Hochul admits he was surprised by the rash of letter carrier convictions earlier this month and credited the Inspector General’s Office for aggressively investigating the crimes.

While the wrongdoing may not rival other crimes he’s prosecuting, Hochul says the letter carrier cases, no matter how small, are important. By investigating and prosecuting postal employees, he hopes to send a message of deterrence to other workers.

“Employees convicted of theft stand to lose their jobs and suffer public disgrace,” added Balfour.

There is no evidence of a strong common link among the crimes or the carriers committing them, although most of the recent defendants are relatively new employees. Of the five employees who have pleaded guilty or been sentenced the past six months, only one had been with the post office more than two years.

A year ago, a carrier in Buffalo admitted throwing 31 pieces of mail into a trash can on Davey Street. He had been with the post office just two weeks.

For some defense lawyers, that’s more than coincidence.

James F. Granville, who represented Jeffrey Wojcik, the letter carrier who dumped the Bed Bath and Beyond mailers into a dumpster, made a point of mentioning his client’s inexperience on the job at his sentencing this month. He told the judge that it’s not uncommon for carriers to come to work and not know what route they’re delivering that day and then find it difficult to meet their 6 p.m. deadline for finishing the route.

Wojcik, on the day he dumped the mailers, was nearing his deadline when he discovered the undelivered mail in his truck. Granville said his client, fearful he might be disciplined, panicked and threw out the mailers.

“Regardless of the stress, he shouldn’t have done it and he regrets it,” he said.

Brian Jaszczak was also new to the job. Hired in September of last year, he was caught on video two months later tossing mail into a garbage tote in Black Rock. He later admitted doing it more than once.

Like Jaszczak, Morgan Bush was relatively inexperienced, but his crime was all about money.

After less than a year on the job, Bush transferred to the Cuba post office and a few months later began stealing cash from greeting cards he was supposed to deliver. By his own admissions, the part-time carrier opened between five and ten cards on at least 30 different occasions. He stole a total of about $400.

Oddly, Bush threw away the cards with cash in them but resealed and returned to the mail the cards that did not have cash.

“These are serious crimes and he knows that,” said Frank Passafiume, the assistant federal public defender representing Bush.

Balfour, the special agent in charge of investigations here, said it’s important to keep in mind that most of the Postal Service’s more than 5,000 local workers are honest, and that a handful of disgraced carriers do not represent them.

“The overwhelming majority of postal employees work very conscientiously to move the nation’s mail – approximately 155 billion pieces last year – to its proper destination,” he said. “It is a responsibility they take very seriously.”

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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