Officers Address Postal Thefts

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Suspect Facing Possible Lengthy Prison Term

Persons should promptly report possible mail or identity theft to authorities and can take steps to prevent it, Vonore residents were told Thursday.

At the town’s community center, Monroe County Sheriff ’s Lieutenant Detective Jennifer Bledsoe said mail from 140 persons has been recovered in the case of a male subject who has been charged with mail theft. It appeared all but maybe 20 of the victims were at the meeting.

Sheriff ’s Lieutenant Detective Conway Mason hosted the meeting. Other authorities present were Wallace Bowden, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Sheriff Bill Bivens, Vonore Police Chief Randy Kirkland, Investigator Mack Williams, School Resource Officer Melinda Fowler and  Patrol Officer Michael Miller.

Mason said mail intended for the Corntassel, Niles Ferry, and Povo areas had been recovered. When cases such as these take place, he said, the culprit was capable of obtaining things like bank statements and Social Security numbers.

“They may not use them now but they can do it a year from now,” Mason said.

He read the names of the persons whose mail had been recovered.  He cautioned, however, that
“Just because your name wasn’t called doesn’t mean this person hasn’t stolen your mail.”

“This is going to be a multi-agency deal,” Chief Kirkland said of the apprehended suspect Josh
Morgan.  Thirty cases are already known to have taken place in city limits, he said.  “We will file a report for anyone in the city and we’ll get it to the postal inspector.”

Mason thanked persons in the Kahite area for using videotape that has so far helped in the case.

“I don’t see a whole lot of mail theft,” said Inspector Bowden, “but when I do see it, it’s  devastating.  It’s particularly devastating this time of year, with tax refunds and income tax filings.  Who wants to get a tax refund? Raise your hand.”

Congress has recognized that the crime is serious, and now mail theft is a federal felony  punishable by up to five years in prison, Bowden said.  Also, the State of Tennessee has created a credit freeze that keeps people from seeing a person’s credit.

“My plan is to investigate this case and turn my findings over to the U.S. Attorney’s office,” Bowden said.

“I’m processing (your mail) out there (now).” He thanked Mason for organizing the meeting.

As Bowden said, the Morgan could also face federal charges.  Taking questions, Bowden and Mason were asked how much punishment the Morgan could receive.  With both federal and
local charges lodged against him, Bowden said there could be maybe 240 counts, each of which carried up to five years in prison.

“Do it!” said someone in the audience.

“A lot of mailboxes were opened,” said Mason.  Asked how long this particular case had been  going on, Bowden said pertinent information was first received in September of last year.  Asked if Morgan acted alone, the officer would not comment.

Asked if the subject had confessed, Mason said, “He did give a statement.”

Bowden said that some mail in the case was dirty or wet. “I understand you wanting us to do this quickly (but) I want to make sure we resolve this situation as best we can.”

Asked (by the press) if the situation showed the need for more personnel at law enforcement agencies, Sheriff Bivens said, “Our guys are going from call to call.  We do get aggravated.”

Throughout the meeting, there were recommendations of what people could do to prevent future theft cases.  Persons could lock mailboxes, Bowden said, as long as the carrier can put mail in it. Bowden said he rented a box.

Information was handed out during the meeting. Free credit reports were recommended, for which www.annualcreditreport.com can be contacted.  The credit reporting agencies Equifax
(www.equifax.com), Experian (www.experian.com), and TransUnion (www.tuc.com) could be contacted if credit card fraud.  The U.S. Federal Trade Commission oversees the operation of credit bureaus and the web site www.ftc.gov/idtheft could be accessed if identity theft was suspected.

Bivens encouraged citizens to form neighborhood watch programs, and leaving lights on at the right time was encouraged.  A person in the audience thanked the sheriff’s department for its  work and also encouraged neighborhood watches.

“Hopefully we’ll get this resolved with little trouble to you,” said Mason in conclusion.

“Very good,” said Annie Taylor of Vonore about the meeting, although she herself was not a victim of mail theft, she said.

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