For more than a year the U.S. Postal Service and law enforcement largely ignored a mail theft crime that turned into forgery, bank fraud and grand theft.
An 8 On Your Side investigation discovered the crime was ignored despite video proof and a license tag of the car the crooks were in.
Staff at the West Coast Eye Institute in Citrus County suspected something was happening to the weekend mail one year ago. So Doctor John Rowda installed surveillance cameras. The cameras captured crooks stealing mail – over and over again. High definition cameras even got the license plate number on one thief’s vehicle.
“We all thought that stealing federal mail is a big-time crime, and these people have made a big mistake,” Dr. Rowda said.
But when the doctor contacted the postmaster for Citrus County, he was shocked by what he heard. “We found a lady who was in charge of four counties. She said it’s absolutely her crime and it is their problem. However, apparently years ago, any budgets for investigation or officers to enforce this had gone away and she had no ability to do this. And it’s happening every day in the four counties that she covers,” Rowda relayed.
The postmaster suggested contacting the sheriff’s office.
8 On Your Side learned these thieves stole personal checks from four of the clinic’s patients.
That opens to door to other crimes, Citrus County Sheriff’s Office captain Danny Linhart said.
“They’ve obtained your name, they’ve obtained what bank you bank at, and most importantly there, they’ve obtained routing numbers,” Linhart said.
That’s just what’s needed for identity theft. The thieves pilfered a $7 check to the eye clinic from 77-year-old patient Linda Skoglund.
“I was shocked and I was scared,” Skoglund said.
Here’s what the thieves did. Using Skoglund’s routing numbers, they created counterfeit checks. The thieves spent $449 dollars at Home Depot and another $526 dollars at a Walmart in Sarasota.
“Somebody’s violated you in a sense,” Skoglund said.
The license tag on a silver Ford pickup came back to an Enterprise Rental in Pinellas County.
According to the sheriff’s report, it was rented by Ariane Johnson. Records show Johnson’s been arrested 33 times for possession of cocaine, fraud, forging checks and more. Efforts to contact her attorney about her connection to the pickup truck were unsuccessful.
So why hasn’t the sheriff’s office arrested anybody?
“As of right now the investigation is still an open investigation,” Capt. Linhart said.
It’s open, but it’s been more than a year, and investigators have yet to speak with any persons of interest. Despite what appears to be grand theft and bank fraud, Citrus County investigators consider this crime petty theft.
“I thought you went to prison if you stole the mail,” Skoglund said.
8 On Your Side contacted the Post Pffice to see why it has no resources to investigate mail theft. Within a week, Doug Smith of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service responded with a statement via email.
“The United States Postal Inspection Service is committed to protecting the US Postal Service and our customers by enforcing laws to defend the Nation’s mail against theft and criminal misuse. We recognize there was a breakdown in communication at the onset of this investigation; as a result some investigative avenues were not pursued. However, state and federal violations regarding these crimes are within the statute of limitations and we have recommitted Inspectors to this matter.”
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