TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) – The Tennessee District of the U.S. Postal Service is a hotbed for mail complaints, according to Office of Inspector General records. Federal records show special agents substantiated some of those complaints locally, suspending, firing and prosecuting employees for mistreating, delaying and even stealing mail.
Our review of OIG records from January 2011 through September 2016 revealed, of almost 70 districts nationwide, USPS’ Tennessee District, which includes the 3-digit Zip Codes 370-374, 376-385 in Tennessee and the 307 Zip Code in Northern Georgia, is home to the fifth most OIG closed investigations during that five-year period.
Of those more than 550 cases, we don’t know how many agents substantiated, but we do know 40% alleged some kind of mail theft, mistreatment or delay.
A spokesperson for the OIG confirms special agents opened a new case, just weeks ago after they identified a postal employee believed to be responsible for reports of mail theft in Kingsport. The case remains under investigation, but the employee no longer works for USPS, according to a spokesperson.
OIG internal documents show agents substantiated a dozen cases locally in recent years.
Records show USPS suspended an employee out of the 37601 zip code in 2016 for failing to deliver 220 circulars to customers.
In 2015, records show the agency suspended a carrier in the 37617 Zip Code for abandoning her route and throwing hundreds of pieces of First-Class and Second-Class mail into an undeliverable bin intended for destruction after receiving an anonymous complaint.
Earlier that year, USPS fired another employee in the 37604 Zip Code for delaying the delivery of more than 400 pieces of mail, according to public records. The employee admitted his wrongdoing, telling agents “he delayed mail on an almost daily basis for approximately two months prior to the date of the interview,” according to internal documents.
A 2013-2014 OIG investigation in the 37601 Zip Code resulted in the resignation of an employee who reportedly discarded mail in a dumpster at a convenience store.
“The investigation developed evidence that (the employee) discarded 20 bundles, or approximately 340 pieces of U.S. Mail,” OIG records said.
The employee pleaded guilty in federal court to a petty offense charge of Obstruction of Mail, according to OIG records. A magistrate ordered him to pay a $500 fine, court costs and a special assessment, internal documents revealed.
A rural carrier out of Fall Branch (37656 Zip Code) resigned in 2013 after admitting, in an effort to get pain pills, she stole medications from VA patients over the course of three years, according to OIG records. She spent 27 days in federal prison, according to public records.
USPS fired a contracted truck driver out of the 37601 Zip Code for stealing more than 100 times from East Tennessee State University and Hampton Post Office customers in 2010, specifically taking cash from greeting cards. His actions impacted dozens of customers, according to OIG internal documents. He ultimately pleaded guilty to a federal crime, received four years’ probation and agreed to pay $3,682 in restitution to his victims.
A year prior, federal court records show a rural route carrier out of Unicoi pleaded guilty in federal court and spent time in prison after investigators found thousands of pieces of undelivered mail at his home. The mail belonged to nearly 400 people, according to court documents.
The OIG declined our request for an on-camera interview.
“The vast majority of items entrusted to USPS arrive safely and promptly to the proper recipients,” OIG spokesperson Agapi Doulaveris said.
“Unfortunately, mail theft, destruction of mail, discarding of mail, and willful delaying of mail do occasionally occur. The U.S. Postal Office of Inspector General aggressively pursues allegations of fraud, waste, and abuse in postal programs and operations, including employee misconduct. OIG receives allegations from many sources and takes these allegations seriously. We review each allegation and as appropriate investigate and work with judicial and management authorities to protect the interests of USPS and the public.”
Doulaveris said USPS employed more than 500,000 people in FY 2016 and delivered roughly 154 billion pieces of mail — 45% of the world’s volume — to more than 155 million delivery points nationwide, adding 1.1 million new delivery points in the process. The spokesperson said the agency reviews each allegation of employee misconduct individually, so there is no simple answer as to why a particular region has a higher number of reported investigations.
“Investigative and audit reports are a snapshot in time and may not reflect the climate of a region over a different or longer time period,” Doulaveris said. “Also, differences in the number of complaints and resulting investigations may be triggered by a particular event or even from multiple allegations from a single source.”
Meanwhile, a USPS spokesperson said the agency’s 12,000 employees in the Tennessee District who deliver six days a week to more than 3 million addresses daily are “committed to upholding the sanctity of the mail on behalf of the Postal Service.”
Spokesperson Susan Wright said items sent Priority Mail or Priority Mail Express automatically include insurance. Meanwhile, she said First Class mail does not automatically include insurance.
“In most other situations, an item must be insured at the time of mailing in order to file a claim for loss or damage,” she said.
Agents did not just substantiate cases involving people’s mail. They also substantiated other local cases of employee misconduct.
A 2013 OIG investigation found an employee in the 37620 Zip Code peed in public while on duty in the presence of a 12-year-old boy, according to federal records.
“(The employee) admitted to the OIG that he pulled to the end of a dead end street, exited his postal truck and while facing the vehicle, urinated on the driveway,” OIG records said. “(The employee) stated numerous times that he was sorry for the incident and was highly embarrassed.”
A 2013-2014 OIG investigation determined an employee in the 37643 Zip Code inappropriately claimed a work-related injury, according to internal documents.
“(The employee) claimed he fell and injured his right shoulder at a gas station while pushing his disabled postal delivery vehicle,” OIG records said. “The (retail associate) went to the gas station and obtained video which showed (the employee) never pushed the vehicle and never fell in the manner he described.”
The Department of Justice declined to charge the employee, saying the man injured himself in a different manner than he disclosed on his claim. The Department of Labor concurred, determining his injury was still considered to be in the performance of duty.
By using surveillance, a 2013 OIG investigation found a USPS employee in the 37601 Zip Code engaged in healthcare claimant fraud while doing “strenuous yard work, bending and lifting, walking and driving while on restricted status.” The employee later pleaded guilty to a federal charge, received five years’ probation and had to pay $4,956 in restitution to USPS, according to OIG records.
A 2010 case identified a postal employee in the 37811 Zip Code who reportedly asked relatives to buy stamps.
“The audit revealed a shortage of approximately $3,800,” OIG internal records said. “Subsequent to the audit, OIG agents interviewed (the employee who) acknowledged she embezzled the $3,800 from the post office by selling stamps, but not reporting their sales.”
OIG records show the employee pleaded guilty to a federal crime, received four years’ probation and had to pay $3,851 in restitution to USPS.
USPS is consistently rated the most trusted federal agency. If you have a complaint, you can call the fraud, waste and misconduct hotline at (888) USPS-OIG or file an online complaint.