TAMPA — One day in September, a postal carrier was on foot delivering mail on South Hesperides Street in Tampa’s Beach Park neighborhood when he noticed a man in the driver’s seat of his parked mail truck. When seen, the man got out and ran to a Mercedes sedan a few houses away. Officials say the man drove off with the truck’s keys.
About 50 minutes later and a mile away, a masked man approached a different postal carrier on South Estrella Street. He pointed a gun and demanded mailbox keys, according to a federal criminal complaint. With two keys in hand, he ran to the passenger seat of a nearby Mercedes and yelled “Go! Go! Go!” as the car sped off.
The theft and the robbery was one of several local cases that federal and local law enforcement officials highlighted Friday as they aim to combat what they say is a nationwide rise in recent years in threats and attacks on mail carriers.
“These are public servants doing their jobs,” said Bladimir Rojo, the assistant U.S. postal inspector in charge in the agency’s Miami division. “They should be safe.”
A common target of such crimes is what’s known as “arrow lock keys,” the master keys that U.S. Postal Service workers use to open collection boxes and mailbox panels. Thieves use the keys to steal checks or other valuables from the mail. In some cases, the keys are sold to other people.
To combat the crime trend, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service this year began an initiative dubbed Project Safe Delivery. Stronger enforcement is one component of the effort.
In the last three years, federal law enforcement officials have arrested 12 people in seven different robberies of postal carriers in the judicial district that includes Tampa, Rojo said.
In the September case, police quickly identified the Mercedes used in the mail truck theft and the later robbery. The car was a rented vehicle that detectives linked to two men whose cellphone records showed had traveled the same day to Tampa from Miramar, in South Florida, according to a criminal complaint.
Christopher Raymond, 20, and Andre Hylton, 19, were charged in federal court in October with armed robbery of a U.S. postal carrier for that case, records show.
Another case prosecutors highlighted Friday happened earlier the same month in Temple Terrace. In that case, three people accosted a mail carrier at gunpoint while he was making a delivery in the River Pointe apartment complex, according to authorities. They snatched keys from his belt and smashed his cellphone before fleeing in a Chevy Silverado truck.
About two months later, federal prosecutors charged Jordan Brown, 20, Jordan Murray, 19, and Darine Underwood, 18, with the robbery. A criminal complaint states that Murray admitted to Hillsborough sheriff’s officials his involvement and said he was expecting to be paid $4,500 from someone who gave him the idea of robbing a mail carrier for their keys.
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“Robbing a postal carrier is not a path to riches,” U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg said. “It is a path to investigation, arrest, indictment, conviction and prison.”
Nationwide, the initiative has resulted in 109 arrests for robberies and more than 500 for mail thefts, Rojo said.
As part of the strategy, the U.S. Postal Service aims to do away with thousands of antiquated arrow locks and keys and replace them with electronic keys that can be deactivated.
There are also rewards. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service offers up to $150,000 to anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest for a mail carrier robbery.