Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Public safety

Robbery of mail carrier in Tampa marks escalation in tax fraud schemes

TAMPA — The postman was sorting through the mail on his route when he felt a gun.

"Don't move," the assailant instructed.

Postman Merrill Hadcock, 48, soon learned what the gunman was after: tax refund checks.

The Wednesday morning robbery in Sulphur Springs marked a violent escalation in the income tax fraud schemes that have plagued Tampa over the last year.

It was the second theft this month on a Tampa mail route. On April 17, about 200 pieces of mail were stolen from a truck in Seminole Heights.

Until the recent daylight thefts, scammers were stealing identities and filing fake tax returns online or through the mail to get refunds. The violent turn worries investigators.

"We have had two instances in two weeks now, and it has escalated to a gun actually pointed at someone's head," said Andrea Davis, a Tampa police spokeswoman. "That's scary."

Wednesday's attack happened just after 11 a.m. as Hadcock was parked near 1101 E River Cove St., police said.

As he turned to look at the assailant, the gunman raised the revolver and pressed it against the postman's head.

"Don't look," the robber said.

The gunman hopped onto the truck's outer ledge and told the carrier to drive, police said. He guided Hadcock to Kodiak Springs and 19th Street, then asked where Hadcock kept "the checks," police said.

The postman indicated they might be in a tray, and the gunman grabbed several pieces of mail containing tax returns, threw them into his backpack and hopped off, police said.

Another man was waiting for him in a car, and they drove away on Bird Street, police said.

No one was injured, and no suspects have been named in either of this month's incidents.

The U.S. Postal Inspector has offered a reward of $50,000 for any information about the two men in Wednesday's robbery.

Doug Smith, the postal inspector investigating the robbery, said potential fraud victims will be notified in a letter about what steps they need to take next.

"An obvious answer would be to contact the IRS if you are expecting a tax refund check you haven't received," he said.

Stealing from postal carriers and mailboxes is another side of the widespread tax refund fraud problem many cities are trying to get under control.

A Pembroke Pines mail carrier, Bruce Parton, 60, was fatally shot and killed for his mailbox key during a December 2010 robbery on his Miami-Dade County route.

Last June, a mail carrier in Hollywood, Calif., was robbed at gunpoint. And in 2011, a Camden, N.J., man was sentenced to seven years in federal prison after he and his wife pleaded guilty to following mail carriers to steal tax refund and Social Security checks from mailboxes.

Tax fraud has been at the forefront of crime problems in Tampa for the past year. Police appealed to Congress to try to stop the flow of millions of dollars in fraudulent returns.

Davis, the police spokeswoman, said officers and postal inspectors are working together on safety plans for mail carriers. But the problem goes further.

"The Tampa Police Department cannot investigate its way out of this problem," she said. "It needs to be fixed at the filing level."

In response to pleas from law enforcement, the IRS announced a pilot program in Tampa in which local investigators will get access to information not previously available to them, such as the actual fraudulent tax returns.

That should make it easier for police to prove identity theft.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Comments
Troopers seek driver who ran from fatal crash in Trinity

Troopers seek driver who ran from fatal crash in Trinity

TRINITY — The Florida Highway Patrol said it is looking for a driver who ran from the scene of a fatal three-vehicle crash that took place Tuesday afternoon on State Road 54 at Duck Slough Boulevard.The crash took place at about 2:33 p.m., closing do...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

ST. PETERSBURG — A Lakewood High School student was killed and two others were injured when their car struck a tree just outside the campus on Tuesday afternoon, according to police.All three boys involved in the crash were 18 and seniors, officials ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
He tried to rob two pharmacies. Both times he left empty-handed.

He tried to rob two pharmacies. Both times he left empty-handed.

TAMPA — Police are looking for a man who failed to rob two pharmacies last week.No one was harmed during the botched heists, but the man may be armed with a handgun, police said.Detectives on Tuesday released surveillance video that showed the man in...
Updated: 1 hour ago
FHP: Riverview motorcyclist critically injured in crash on I-4

FHP: Riverview motorcyclist critically injured in crash on I-4

TAMPA — A 41-year-old motorcyclist was critically injured in a Monday night crash on Interstate 4, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The crash took place at about 7:15 p.m. Cristobal Padilla, of Riverview, was riding a 2004 Suzuki motorcycle in...
Updated: 1 hour ago
St. Pete police identify man wanted for stealing car — and baby

St. Pete police identify man wanted for stealing car — and baby

ST. PETERSBURG — Police are searching for a 19-year-old man accused of stealing a car left running with an 8-month-old baby left in the back on Monday.The baby was found unharmed by two WFLA-Ch. 8 journalists a short time later, according to St. Pete...
Updated: 1 hour ago
A Sarasota girl nearly dies after accidentally ingesting pool water

A Sarasota girl nearly dies after accidentally ingesting pool water

It started off like a regular pool day at her grandparent’s home. Elianna Grace, 4, and other kids were having fun, blowing water out of pool noodles at each other.Then, as Elianna was blowing water out one end of the noodle, someone else accidentall...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Buckhorn urged to name woman as fire chief in wake of discrimination suit

Buckhorn urged to name woman as fire chief in wake of discrimination suit

TAMPA — In the wake of a female firefighter’s victory against the city in a discrimination lawsuit, Mayor Bob Buckhorn is being urged to name a high-ranking woman to replace retiring fire Chief Tom Forward.Earlier this month, Buckhorn said he will na...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Tampa man faces murder charge in September slaying

Tampa man faces murder charge in September slaying

TAMPA — A 68-year-old Tampa man faces a charge of first-degree murder following his arrest Monday in the September death of an Osceola County woman.Evidence from the crime scene led officers to James Jackson, police said.According to police, the body...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Florida man said sex addiction caused him to attack two women

Florida man said sex addiction caused him to attack two women

CORAL SPRINGS — Police say a security guard arrested in connection with two attacks on women in a Florida neighborhood has told investigators he has a problem. The police report on the Sunday arrest of 25-year-old Dante M. Collins says he admitted tr...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Missing Wesley Chapel boy, 12, found safe

Missing Wesley Chapel boy, 12, found safe

A Florida Missing Child Alert has been cancelled for a 12-year-old boy in Wesley Chapel.Tyshawn Govan has been located and is safe, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.The boy had last been seen Monday night near the 2200 block of Marsh Vi...
Updated: 12 hours ago