HOULTON, Maine — A 32-year employee of the U.S. Postal Service who was arrested and charged in February after he stole prescription medications that were supposed to be delivered to local residents will spend the next 30 days in jail.
Joseph Skehan, 57, of Houlton was sentenced in Aroostook County Superior Court on Wednesday on charges of theft, unlawful possession of scheduled drugs and stealing drugs.
Under a plea agreement with the Aroostook County District Attorney’s Office, Justice E. Allen Hunter sentenced Skehan to 30 days in jail on the theft charge and fined him $350. The stealing drugs charge was dismissed and disposition on the possession charge was deferred, which means if Skehan complies with the conditions of his release for one yea, he can avoid having that felony charge on his record. If he succeeds, Skehan instead will be allowed in one year to plead guilty to a misdemeanor. The conditions include adhering to regulations regarding the use of alcohol and drugs and refraining from criminal conduct.
Skehan originally was charged by the Houlton Police Department with five counts of stealing drugs and two counts of unlawful possession of a schedule W drug. All of the crimes took place while he was employed as a postal worker and the thefts took place at the U.S. post office on Court Street in Houlton.
The investigation into missing mail began in July 2010 and Skehan became a suspect that October, according to Houlton Police Chief Butch Asselin. Houlton Detective Kris Calaman and an agent from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service conducted the investigation. Skehan’s activities at the post office were monitored periodically using video surveillance.
The chief said that all of the stolen medications were hydrocodone, a narcotic painkiller. One of the packages stolen by Skehan turned out to contain vitamins.
According to Asselin, the packages involved were mailed by the Veterans Health Administration to veterans in the Houlton area. The prescription medications were mailed from Togus or from a facility in Memphis, Tenn.
Once the packages arrive at the post office they are supposed to be scanned as being delivered and a notice placed in the addressee’s post office box. The recipient then takes the notice to the service desk to receive his medication.
Skehan, who arrived for work about 5 a.m., often sorted the incoming mail, according to police. Asselin said that Skehan would see the packages sent from the VHA, scan them but not place the notices in the addressee’s post office box. Skehan then would take the medications from the post office when he went home later in the afternoon.
The chief said that in one instance, Skehan opened a box from the VHA that was to be delivered to a rural route customer and emptied the medication from the bottle. The empty bottle then was placed back in the damaged box and delivered by the carrier.
Police have identified three victims.
Skehan had 26 oxycodone and eight hydrocodone pills that were not his in his possession when he was arrested. They belonged to a family member, according to police, and were not removed from the post office. Those pills resulted in the possession charges.
Aroostook County Assistant District Attorney Kurt Kafferlin said Wednesday that the plea deal was negotiated between Skehan’s attorney, Mike Carpenter of Houlton, and District Attorney Todd Collins.
Kafferlin said the plea deal resulted from the fact that Skehan had no prior criminal record and immediately went and apologized to his victims after his arrest.
“He was cooperative with police and immediately apologized to his victims, even though it could have been used against him in court,” said Kafferlin.
Skehan had a legal prescription for painkillers and developed an addiction, according to Carpenter, his attorney. The attorney said his client is remorseful for his crimes.
Skehan has been out on bail since his arrest. He was scheduled to report to jail Thursday morning to begin serving his sentence.
Post office officials have refused to comment on the case or the status of Skehan’s employment.