Two New York City police officers in an unmarked vehicle spotted 31-year-old Feng Chen behaving suspiciously early one morning last month. The Brooklyn man was walking in and out of buildings in the borough's Sunset Park neighborhood, carrying what looked like mail.
When an officer approached Chen, he discarded mail on the sidewalk. As the officers questioned him, they spotted more mail bulging from his jacket pocket.
A search uncovered nine stolen Treasury Department stimulus checks worth more than $12,000, according to a criminal complaint. Other checks and credit cards also were recovered from the loot, the complaint said.
Chen was busted April 28, charged a day later with theft or receipt of stolen mail, and is staring at a maximum sentence of five years in prison. His federal public defender, Jan Alison Rostal, said she could not comment as the case is pending. While searching a New York Police Department database, the cops found a bench warrant for Chen from Manhattan, stemming from a prior case involving identity theft.
A federal crime
The federal case was announced by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn — just as law enforcement officials across the nation caution people to keep an eye on their mailboxes as millions of paper stimulus checks are flowing through the mail. Tax refunds, unemployment checks and prescription drugs also are going out during the pandemic, and these items attract sticky-fingered thieves on the prowl.
On Friday, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California announced mail theft charges against Paula Orozco, 38. She has been accused of stealing mail after breaking into postal vehicles in San Jose, California, on April 18 and May 13. She's due back in court in San Jose on Tuesday.
"Postal inspectors and their law enforcement partners have no tolerance for the theft of mail, especially during these unprecedented times."
— Philip Bartlett, inspector in charge, New York Division, U.S. Postal Inspection Service
Mail theft is a federal crime, whether what's purloined is a first-class letter containing a credit card, sneakers shipped by a retailer or a direct-mail ad destined for the garbage can.