In light of continued complaints about lost or undelivered mail, The Times-Independent recently filed an information request with the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Postal Service to learn more about past issues.
An investigation in 2012 led to the termination and prosecution of a postal clerk. A more recent investigation, in 2017, was closed and dubbed “unresolved” by the inspector.
In 2012, following complaints of mail theft at the Moab Post Office that year, an investigation by the Inspector General led to the prosecution of a former mail clerk who pleaded guilty in the case.
The Times-Independent recently learned about the investigation and prosecution after making a Freedom of Information Act request to the Inspector General. The matters were not previously reported.
Due to the length of time since the individual’s prosecution, The T-I has decided not to name the person, who has not been employed by the postal service for at least seven years.
Following her guilty plea, the court fined the woman $793 for the thefts and ordered her to serve five days in jail and complete 100 hours of community service. Following her sentencing, she spent two years on probation.
The woman originally faced two charges in the case; one was theft of property totaling less than $500 in value, a Class B misdemeanor under Utah State Code. The other was mail theft, a Class A misdemeanor that carries harsher consequences, including up to one year in jail.
As part of the plea deal, the Grand County Attorney at the time, Andrew Fitzgerald, dropped the lesser charge against the woman, and the court ordered her to spend five days in the Grand County Jail.
The Times-Independent was not able to contact the woman for comment on this story.
According to the Inspector General’s report, she had been employed as a distribution clerk, which involved sorting mail, and as a sales and service associate, which is a customer-facing role.
In her role as sales and service associate, she accepted and delivered packages, processed purchases and returns of Postal Service products and services, and interfaced with the public regarding postal regulations, among other duties.
How the investigation unfolded
According to an investigation report from the inspector’s office, she began working for the Postal Service in October 1996.
On May 1, 2012, investigators opened the case that eventually led to her prosecution a year and a half later. The case was first opened after a customer alleged that he did not receive packages sent through the Postal Service and that he received some packages that were opened.
Soon after the Inspector General’s office received the complaint, investigators found that numerous other complaints had been levied in years prior.
According to investigators, there were 191 customer-reported issues with mail delivery in Moab in the 2.5 years prior to the start of the investigation. During that time span, locals reported an average of nearly two complaints every week.
In the documents it furnished to The Times-Independent as part of a FOIA request, the Inspector General redacted details of the investigation that followed this initial finding.
To explain its redactions, the Inspector General cited federal law that protects techniques and procedures used in law enforcement investigations. It also cited federal laws that protect the identities of agency employees and third parties, such as locals who submitted complaints.
One detail that was included in the Inspector General’s redacted report was the existence of an interview with the woman that investigators conducted in September 2012. One month after the interview, she was removed from the Moab Post Office for “unacceptable conduct.”
Court documents from 2013 show that she admitted to the theft of a $35 money order and a gift card. Court documents and the report from investigators suggests that these two items were sent and later stolen during the investigation.
Fitzgerald filed the lawsuit against the individual on Jan. 15, 2013. She pleaded guilty two months later.
Complaints following the investigation
Prosecution of the woman did not stop the flow of mail theft complaints in Moab. The Inspector General opened an investigation later the same year that her case ended, another in 2015 and the most recent one in 2017.
According to the report from the 2017 investigation, “previous investigations have been potentially compromised when [investigators] have coordinated with the postmaster, and when checking into local hotels.”
In August 2013, months after the woman lost her job at the Moab Post Office and served her time in jail, the Inspector General opened another investigation, which it later closed as “allegation unfounded.”
The case was opened when a customer complained through the Inspector General’s Hotline, which is a service dedicated solely to receiving complaints from Postal Service customers. The customer said that there had recently been several pieces of mail that she did not receive, all mailed from other states.
An initial query by the Inspector General showed that eight complaints had been lodged in a nine-month window. This rate of complaints was significantly lower than the rate that had been reported prior to the earlier investigation, which averaged more than one a week over the course of years.
The Inspector General identified at least two separate individuals who delivered mail on the routes where it had been reported missing.
After further investigation, the Inspector General had pieces of mail sent through the Moab Post Office to see whether any were intercepted. After at least five test sends, with all items delivered intact, the case was closed.
The Inspector General opened another investigation two years later in June 2015, but heavily redacted details of the case. The office closed it after investigators were unable to develop a suspect.
As The Times-Independent reported previously, the Inspector General closed an investigation from 2017, calling it “unresolved” after mail theft allegations stopped during the investigation.
Since The Times-Independent began reporting on recent allegations of mail theft in April, the Office of the Inspector General has expressed interest in complaints levied by locals about mail they allege went missing. It is unknown whether the Inspector General is currently undertaking another investigation.