80 charged in $5M US Postal Service fraud scheme

More than four dozen people were arrested Thursday and Friday in connection with what the U.S. Postal Inspection Service called a “sophisticated and organized fraud scheme,” resulting in the theft of nearly $5 million from hundreds of people across California.

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California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the 56 arrests Friday, noting that roughly 80 people have been charged with felony grand theft, money laundering and conspiracy in connection with the yearslong scheme.

“Let this be a strong warning to anyone seeking to steal people’s hard-earned money: We will find you, and we will hold you accountable,” Bonta said in a prepared statement, detailing “Operation Checks in the Mail.”

“As California’s chief law enforcement officer, I will not tolerate theft and fraud being perpetrated against California families. The California Department of Justice will continue to work to bring those responsible for these alleged actions to account,” he added.

The suspects allegedly launched the postal fraud and check-washing operation in 2018 and are charged with victimizing more than 750 Californians. “Investigators believe the stolen money was used to fund other criminal operations,” according to Bonta’s office.

According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the alleged plot involved participants altering stolen checks, depositing them into bank accounts and then quickly withdrawing the money via ATMs before the banks discovered the forgeries.

The scheme’s architects allegedly recruited individuals on social media to either open bank accounts or use their own personal checking accounts in attempts to conceal the suspects’ identities when making deposits, the inspection service stated.

“The American public have an expectation when it comes to their mail,” Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale said in a prepared statement.

“They expect it to be safe. Not tampered with. Not stolen. It’s the responsibility of the United States Postal Inspection Service to make sure the mail is secure. And when mail is stolen and checks are altered, as we saw in this case, postal inspectors are committed to ferreting out those responsible and bringing them to justice. The coordinated effort with our partner law enforcement agencies to dismantle this criminal enterprise is a perfect example of the way law enforcement is supposed to work,” he added.

Agencies assisting the investigation included the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Bakersfield Police Department, Hermosa Beach Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Marshals, California State Parole agents, Los Angeles County Probation, Long Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services.