Former postal worker pleads guilty to theft on Orono route

Posted Feb. 18, 2010, at 10:09 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A former U.S. postal worker pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing about $150 cash a week from envelopes mailed to customers on his Orono delivery route.

Lawrence A. Custis, 55, of Lincoln entered his plea after waiving indictment during proceedings in U.S. District Court in Bangor. Custis, who is being represented by Brewer attorney Donald Brown, was released on personal recognizance bail. A sentencing hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Theft by a postal employee is a federal violation that carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and restitution, according to a synopsis filed with the federal court Thursday.

According to documents filed by federal prosecutors, Custis is accused of stealing cash from envelopes while he was employed as a letter carrier at the Old Town post office and Orono annex from December 2006 through April 2007. Custis had been employed by the Old Town post office and Orono annex since June 1986.

In March 2007, the Postal Service became aware from customer complaints that envelopes containing greeting cards and cash being mailed to addresses in the Orono area either were not being delivered or were arriving sans cash.

One complainant alleged that beginning in October 2006, six envelopes were delivered to her daughter’s mailbox with $15 in cash missing each time. A review of complaints in the Postal Service’s financial crimes database turned up similar complaints involving various Orono delivery routes, prosecutors noted.

Based on those complaints, the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of the Inspector General launched an investigation that involved several “test mailings,” all but one of which contained cash.

“Each time, the envelope, which federal agents observed being delivered by the defendant to the address written on the envelope, were found to have the cash removed,” Special Attorney Peter Papps noted. He said that the one envelope that contained a gift card instead of cash was delivered with the card still in it but “showed signs of having been opened and resealed.”

The investigation also involved surveillance by Postal Service special agents, who reported that they had video footage showing Custis tamper with mail, open mail to see its contents and remove mail from the mail stream.

When Custis was interviewed by two federal agents on April 6, 2007, he admitted to having opened sealed greeting card envelopes, stealing any cash inside and then resealing the envelopes for delivery, the court documents noted. Custis admitted to having stolen about $150 a week beginning in December 2006 after he discovered an envelope that month that was not sealed.

BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.

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