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Prison time for sticky-fingered mail carriers? Unlikely

John Doyle Jr.
John Doyle Jr.
Published Oct. 3, 2015

People fumed for days, strangers calling for prison, after a St. Petersburg mail carrier admitted in a recent court paper that he had stolen "countless" parcels and envelopes looking for gift cards, money and valuables.

But John M. Doyle Jr. is just the latest Tampa Bay area postal worker accused of mail theft.

Don't expect to find the others behind bars.

While stealing mail may be punishable by up to five years in prison, federal judges routinely put the guilty on probation, especially if they've pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, such as opening mail without authority.

However high the irritation factor may be for the public, the proceeds of the crime are often too low to demand prison time. They pale against a backdrop of million-dollar fraud that is commonplace in federal court.

Former Zephyrhills rural carrier associate Kelsey Fisher was caught on camera in January spending a stolen $25 gift card at a Toys "R" Us in Wesley Chapel, one of four cards she admitted to taking from the mail stream.

Hundreds of pieces of 3-month-old mail from her route were found dumped along a Sumter County highway last fall. In a plea agreement, she said she discarded the mail there.

Magistrate Judge Thomas G. Wilson ordered her in August to serve a year of probation and pay $25 restitution.

Among others put on probation in recent years: Corey E. Gordon, a New Tampa rural carrier who took gift cards for Dillard's and GNC; Kyle Hebenstreit, a contract truck driver who stole four diamond rings; Angela Lobianco Hernandez, an Arcadia postal clerk who stole an iPad; Shalanda D. Johnson, a Tampa carrier who took a Walmart gift card; and Gregg M. Morgan, a Dunellon rural carrier who took gift cards for five restaurants.

Crooked postal workers may get penalized in sentencing guidelines for violating positions of trust, but that's offset by clean criminal histories and the credit they get for accepting responsibility in plea agreements.

Typically, in economic crimes, the higher the criminal proceeds, the stiffer the potential penalty.

Likewise for escalating numbers of victims.

People may not even know they were victimized. But investigators count on them to make themselves known.

"In building a case for mail theft, we rely on victims that come forward, and then we use that information to aid in determining the loss amount," said Special Agent Kenneth Smith of the Postal Service's office of inspector general.

Investigators can't sit back and wait for more theft to happen, said Amy Filjones, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. Once the culprits are identified, the response is quick.

"We catch them and it's over," she said.

Along with their employment.

That, for some workers, is the most punishing aspect of getting caught stealing mail on the job.

Fortunately, it's a fate few of their colleagues ever meet.

Less than 1 percent (specifically, 0.0008 percent) of the nation's 488,000 postal workers and contract employees were arrested in fiscal year 2014 for theft, destruction or delay of mail, Smith said.

"It's a very, very, very small number of employees who commit mail theft," he said, noting that most are honest, hard-working and committed.

Contact Patty Ryan at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.