Seven South Florida residents were rounded up in early-morning raids Thursday in connection with a ring of mail thieves who were allegedly altering and cashing checks they fished out of postal collection boxes.
The arrests were part of “Operation Hook, Line Sinker,” a yearlong investigation conducted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Coral Springs Police Department and Miami Dade Police Department in collaboration with the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.
Investigators said the group used theft methods as simple as putting string with something sticky at the end — duct tape, for example — inside a mailbox and snagging envelopes. During a Thursday afternoon news conference, investigators demonstrated how some of the homemade devices can be used to reach down and pull mail out of the boxes.
“They are taking these devices, they are placing them in collection boxes and literally fishing the outbound mail from collection boxes,” said Antonio Gomez, inspector in charge at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Investigators said this group was focusing on stealing checks from mailboxes in Coral Springs, and cashed in about $14,000.
“These individuals are then taking those checks, removing them from the outbound envelope and chemically altering them in order to to change the amounts,” Gomez said.
The first case was reported in January; soon, investigators had a dozen similar cases in the city.
“When [one victim] checked her bank account, she had found out that these checks which were made out previously to smaller amounts were altered fraudulently to like $1,800,” said Coral Springs Detective Gene Cashier. “So then one case mushroomed into five, then five mushroomed into 12 total.”
The people arrested Thursday are: Angel Luis Arcila-Berovides; Mario Jorge Marrero-Corvo; Frank Rojas; Luibet Cordero; Lorena Gonzalez; Geysi Hernandez Mendoza, and Rosalia Llompart Garcia.
Another accused person, Alexander Reyes, is scheduled to surrender over the weekend, investigators said.
Two other people linked to the group are already in custody, authorities said. Enlys Cosme Palacios is detained at Krome Detention Center and Dayan Moreira Clemente is detained in Mississippi.
The subjects have been charged with organized scheme to defraud, grand theft and identity theft violations.
“The inspection service will stop at nothing to ensure that these criminals are all brought to justice and to continue to ensure that the postal service is safe for our community and safe for our citizenry,” Gomez said.
Investigators say mail theft is usually carried out at night and on weekends, after postal workers collect the mail. They suggest the public avoid depositing outgoing mail after collection hours or over the weekend. People can also give their outgoing mail to a postal worker or put it in one of the collection boxes inside the post office.
“We also want to make sure the community is aware and educated on the steps that they can take to try and prevent themselves from becoming victims of these crimes,” Gomez said.
The investigation is ongoing. Authorities say anyone who witnesses mail theft should call authorities and report the crime to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455.
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