Postal official: Thieves ‘fish’ mail out of mailboxes

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Bloomfield resident Ralph Melito points to where his mail was almost stolen from a Broad Street mailbox in Bloomfield.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Instances of mail theft or attempted theft have been reported in Essex, Union, Bergen, Middlesex and Passaic counties, according to the US Postal Service. Street mailboxes are the targets.

The theft is worked with a bead of glue placed inside the mailbox flap to snare envelopes before they fall into the mailbox chamber. But even when the mail is inside the chamber, it is still vulnerable with the use of a “fishing pole.”

This is a device, sometimes jerry-rigged, with a sticky substance on the tip. The sticky substance can be a rodent or insect trap that uses glue to catch its victim. The fishing pole is lowered into the collection chamber to catch some mail.

According to Gregory Kliemisch, a US Postal Service inspector, the crime is being perpetrated in north NJ counties by individuals from the five NYC boroughs. He said he knows this by the arrests being made.

“It happens after the last pickup,” Kliemisch said in a telephone interview earlier this week. “After that time, the mail is going to be sitting. The streets are dark and there is low traffic in the area. That’s when we see subjects partaking of this crime.”

Bloomfield resident Ralph Melito was almost a victim on Thursday, March 1.
“On Thursday morning, I went to drop mail into the box at Johnson Avenue and Broad Street,’ he said this past weekend. “I had a large envelope and three smaller envelopes.”

He placed the four envelopes onto the mailbox flap, closed it, and then reopened the flap to check. The large envelope had not dropped.
“I noticed the large envelope was stuck on a clear, caulk-like glue,” he said. “It was like the bead of clear caulking adhesive found on mailings.”
He shoved the envelope down and tried his best to scrap off the glue. He even took some soil from the ground and rubbed it into the glue.
“I knew someone was trying to steal mail,” he said.

Melito said he wanted to report the incident, but the mailbox did not have a phone number to call. So, he went to the Brookdale Post Office on Watchung Avenue. Milito was told there had been tampering at two other sites. The next day when he had envelopes to mail, he went to the post office to do it.

“I understood the feds were going to come in,” he said. “It was not only the sticky stuff, but ‘fishing.’”
When he learned that mail was being fished out of mailboxes, Melito said he recalled another incident.
“I found mail on Watchung Avenue last week,” he said. “It was between Philips and Clubb streets. It was a 4-by-8 manila envelope. There were rolled up papers inside. The envelope contained two Union County Superior Court documents. There was cellophane tape on the outside of the envelope.”

Melito said the tape made him think the envelope had been fished from the mailbox.
“Being a good Samaritan, I brought it back to the attorney,” he said.
The attorney’s secretary knew the documents had never made it to court, Melito said.
The envelope was certified mail.

“I wondered about that,” he said. “I thought you had to do that in a post office.”
In the office of the attorney, the secretary, who did not want her name published, said she remembered the man who returned the documents.
“I put the envelope in the mailbox at the corner of Broad Street and Johnson Avenue,” she said. “That’s where we drop our mail. It was a bundle of five. Four must have gone through.”

She said that her office has certified mail postcards and tape that Melito felt was probably from the postcard.
But the woman had her own story of mail theft.

“I had two personal checks stolen from the same mailbox,” she said. “One was for State Farm and the other for Optima.”
The checks were mail in January of this year, she said. In February, she received late notices. But a computer check told her the State Farm check, for $242, had been cashed. A copy of the check had a person’s signature on the back. The $213 Optima check she found out, was cashed without a stamp of endorsement.

Both were cashed on Jan. 22.
“Someone probably cashed my checks online,” she said. “I don’t know how they did it. They call it an improper endorsement. My bank told me they have been dealing with this since October of last year.”

Kliemisch said the secretary’s checks were cashed either using an ATM machine or by remote check depositing where a photograph of the check is taken and deposited.

He said the ink on checks can also be washed off with a chemical compound and rewritten. The crime, he said, is obstruction of mails.
Penalties include fines and imprisonment for up to six months. He said it was important for people to report mail tampering to their local police and report all suspicions to the USPS at 877-876-2455.

Bloomfield Safety Director Sam DeMaio, in an interview, said his department had not gotten any reports about mailbox thefts.
“No one had brought it to our attention,” he said. “I’ll have the officers on patrol be more vigilant.”

Melito, in a follow-up interview, said it was too soon for him to know if any of those other envelopes he mailed that morning made it to their destination or had been fished out. The secretary said she now brings the mail to the post office.