Postal worker gets 2-week sentence for helping co-worker steal veterans’ drugs

Posted Oct. 28, 2011, at 2:32 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 28, 2011, at 5:15 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A former postal worker was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court to two weeks in prison and fined $500 for helping a co-worker last year divert packages containing prescription drugs intended for veterans.

Heather Buck, 40, of Brewer pleaded guilty earlier this month to obstruction of the mail, a federal misdemeanor.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk ordered Buck to begin serving her sentence Monday.

Buck was the second former worker at the postal sorting facility in Hampden to plead guilty this fall to committing a crime while on the job. Christopher McBride, 39, of Bangor pleaded guilty Sept. 16 to theft of mail by a U.S. postal employee. His sentencing date has not been set.

McBride, who admitted that he stole prescription drugs for his own use, and Buck worked together at the sorting facility in Hampden.

Buck, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Lowell, took packages which could be identified easily by their appearance off a conveyor belt and gave them to McBride.

Buck admitted when she pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor earlier this month that on Sept. 12, 2010, while employed as a flat sorting machine operator, she opened a package that contained a book, thumbed through it, then repackaged it.

The title of the book was not in court documents.

The investigation that resulted in Buck and McBride being charged began in September 2010 after the U.S. Postal Inspection Service received information that veterans living in eastern Maine had not received prescription drugs that had been mailed to them, according to court documents. Between June 11, 2010, and Sept. 3, 2010, 15 parcels containing narcotics were reported missing by the Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General.

Surveillance cameras were set up at the Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Center in Hampden, where Buck and McBride worked. Buck was caught on video opening a package containing a book on Sept. 12, 2010, according to information in the prosecution version of events to which she pleaded guilty.

McBride was recorded on Sept. 15 taking “two white parcels from the mail stream and placing them in his backpack,” according to the prosecution version of events to which he pleaded guilty. Further surveillance in September, October and November captured McBride taking several additional packages containing prescription drugs. McBride admitted to stealing more than 1,000 pills from the mail.

Although Buck was not recorded taking packages off the conveyor belt and handing them to McBride, Lowell told the judge that circumstantial evidence showed that Buck was involved in diverting packages to Lowell.

Defense attorney Lawrence Lunn of Bangor told Kravchuk that his client didn’t know what McBride was doing.

“He would say, ‘Hey, Heather, get me that one,’ and she did,” Lunn said.

Buck told the judge that she took full responsibility for her crime.

“I’ve embarrassed myself,” she said shortly before the sentence was imposed. “I’ve embarrassed my family and feel I’m going to pay for this for a very long time.”

Lovell recommended Buck serve two weeks and Lunn recommended she serve a term of probation or 48 hours in jail.

In sentencing Buck, Kravchuk said that the defendant either knew or suspected what McBride was doing.

“It’s hard to imagine it was anything other than willful blindness,” the judge said.

Buck faced up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 on the federal misdemeanor charge. McBride faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

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