MILWAUKEE – A U.S. postal worker admitted to stealing more than 6,000 greeting cards filled with cash and checks in Wisconsin.
As part of a plea deal, Ebony Lavonne Smith, 20, of Milwaukee pleaded guilty to theft or receipt of stolen mail on Sept.12 and will be sentenced at a later date.
Last summer, Wauwatosa residents complained to the U.S. Postal Service that they were not receiving graduation, wedding, birthday and sympathy cards in the Zip codes of 53213 and 53226.
Smith, who was identified as the mail carrier in those areas, had started working on March 23, 2015, and on March 28, 2017, was assigned to deliver mail in Wauwatosa, according to court records.
Online court documents explain how Smith was caught.
On Jan. 25, a letter containing a test greeting card and a $20 bill was prepared for delivery in the Wauwatosa area. Inside the envelope was a transmitter that signaled when it was opened.
On this same date,the envelope was placed in a container earmarked for Smith's delivery route.
While under surveillance, a USPS supervisor first observed Smith rifling through trays assigned to other delivery routes. Smith removed greeting cards, placing them in her tray. Shortly thereafter, Smith picked up the mail for her delivery route, including the blue test envelope, and brought it to her assigned postal vehicle.
Smith began delivering the mail and when she arrived at the address of the test greeting card, the transmitter activated, signaling that the envelope had been opened. At this time, postal agents approached Smith, who was standing outside of her car.
The agent located the opened envelope, which no longer contained the $20 bill. The agent allowed Smith to retrieve her purse from the vehicle, and she gave the agent the test $20 bill, which was in the side pocket of her purse.
Postal authorities also located a bundle of 31 USPS customer greeting cards within a USPS satchel on the floor of the front passenger seat side of Smith's vehicle. In addition, agents also recovered 23 greeting cards and a Starbucks gift card from between the front seat of Smith's USPS vehicle.
Furthermore, agents discovered a roll of tape and letter openers within the driver's side door of Smith's USPS vehicle.
Court records say Smith admitted to stealing mail approximately one or two days per week, stealing cash to pay bills and take care of her four children.
At first, Smith estimated she would steal approximately $40 per week from customer mail and later started stealing $50 to $100 per week from the greeting cards. Smith also admitted to using tape to reseal some of the greeting cards she opened, court documents said.
On July 24, the USPS was contacted by Wrench N Go, an auto salvage yard, about a large quantity of U.S. Mail that was discovered in the rear of a car the company had started to scrap. The car had been received from the city of Milwaukee as a towed vehicle. Multiple letters were located in the car addressed to Ebony Smith.
A review of the First Class Mail recovered from the car revealed there were 6,625 First Class greeting card envelopes and 540 personal checks, some within their greeting card with envelopes, and 45 unopened greeting cards. The postmarks on the greeting cards ranged from March 3, 2017, to Jan. 13, 2018, the court documents said.It is unknown if the amount of money that was stolen or the letters were returned to the recipients. Postal Service officials have not returned a reporter's calls seeking more information.
In November, a postal worker was fired for a similar offense.
A U.S. postal worker at a Milwaukee mail processing center allegedly tampered with mail affecting Wauwatosa and surrounding areas. The employee was accused of stealing cash from envelopes and gift cards. The case was presented to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for consideration of prosecution. It is not known if the employee was charged.
Jeff Arney, assistant special agent in charge and public information officer for the Great Lakes Area Field Office of the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General, previously said there was a number of complaints, many of which came from the Wauwatosa area. He explained it just so happened the Milwaukee employee processed mail for those areas.