TAMPA — In the spring of 2012, four diamond rings went into an Express Mail box bound for Huntington, N.Y.
Instead, one wound up in a Brandon pawnshop and a truck driver whose company contracts with the U.S. Postal Service to transport mail kept them three weeks, according to a federal court document filed Tuesday.
Kyle Joseph Hebenstreit, 41, faces a criminal charge of opening mail without authority, punishable by up to a year in prison.
He has not formally entered a plea. However, a signed plea agreement states that he loaded mail into his trailer at the Valrico post office April 17, 2012, before carrying the Express Mail parcel, insured for $2,000, into the cab of his semitrailer truck.
"Once all of the Postal Service employees had cleared the area, the defendant opened the parcel and took the four diamond rings," the document states.
He pawned one ring for $100, he told agents from the U.S. Postal Service's Office of the Inspector General, who confronted him in January.
He also admitted theft of up to 13 baseball and football collector cards, including three stolen around Christmas as he sat in his truck at the Tampa Logistics and Distribution Center while Postal Service employees loaded the trailer, the plea agreement states.
Investigators reported finding three rings at his Brandon home, along with 10 collector cards.
Hebenstreit was a contract driver for Midwest Transport Inc. in Tampa. On his Facebook page, he calls himself a "former" post office truck driver.
He was never a Postal Service employee, said spokeswoman Enola C. Rice.
The Postal Service delivers more than 160 billion pieces of mail each year, she said, calling theft incidents "extremely rare."
"We maintain the sanctity of the mail and public trust through our law enforcement agencies — the Postal Service Office of the Inspector General and the Postal Inspection Service — that investigate postal crimes," she said.
In August, a fill-in rural carrier was criminally charged after admitting to dumping 2,000 mail pieces she didn't have time to deliver. Ana Maria Villarreal pleaded guilty Sept. 4 to unauthorized destruction of mail and is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 20.