Going postal: U.S. Postal Service investigators have been busy in Maryland
As the Sun’s Justin Fenton reported yesterday, the managers of two U.S. post offices in Waverly and Pikesville have been charged in a bribery-and-kickback scheme in which they are accused of sharing in the proceeds of fraudulent or inflated invoices submitted by janitorial and landscaping contractors.
The case resulted from a joint investigation of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Agents developed the case with the help of a confidential source (CS), a landscaper who allegedly had been involved in the scheme and, in exchange for possible leniency, agreed to make controlled bribery payments to the two managers, according to court documents.
The probe uncovered an alleged scheme stretching back to 2007, when one of the defendants – Richard Lewis Wright, III – became manager of the Waverly office. When another defendant, Kimberly Parnell, became manager of the Pikesville office in 2010, she allegedly joined in. Two other defendants are post-office contractors who allegedly participated through their companies: Ladena Sketers-Anderson of Keep U Clean Janitorial Service and Shane Anderson of Youthful Minds Lawn Care.
Court documents say the scheme diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars in postal-service funds, and thus its impact the agency’s ledger sheet would be infinitesimal, given that the USPS loses billions of dollars per year. Yet, since a three-penny jump is currently contemplated for the existing 46-cent cost of a one-ounce letter stamp – a price that has jumped a nickel since 2007 – this beleaguered agency, whose fortunes have soured significantly in the Internet age, is in dire need of cleansing its operations of waste, fraud, and abuse.
Other recent postal-service investigations in Maryland suggest its law enforcers have been active. The U.S. Postal Inspections Service (USPIS), for instance, has been industriously intercepting suspicious packages at the Incoming Mail Facility in Linthicum, some of which contain cash that the government often gets to keep by simply asserting, based on scant evidence, that it’s proceeds of drug trafficking.
More significant, perhaps, is the USPIS probe of Trojan Horse Ltd., a Jessup-based company that trucks U.S. mail and in 2011 pulled in nearly $20 million from USPS contracts, making it the 66th biggest agency contractor that year. To put this in perspective, FedEx Corporation topped the list, with about $1.5 billion in contracts.
Trojan Horse’s owner, Brian Hicks, and his father, Hal Hicks, since 2011 have been in the crosshairs of USPIS and U.S. Department of Labor law enforcers on suspicion of stealing retirement money withheld from the paychecks of the company’s workers, according to court documents. Agents recently raided Trojan Horse properties and seized Brian Hicks’ email account, all in an effort to prove agents’ suspicions of the scheme – though no public criminal charges have been filed.
The Trojan Horse investigation has been aided by truckers who say their retirement funds have been shorted and by Brian Hicks’ financial adviser, who noted that Hicks stopped making payments into his workers 401(k) accounts. Agents believe that Brian Hicks “has diverted the funds from the Postal Service contracts to grow his other businesses, such as Glen Burnie Hauling, Capital Expressways, Inc., and BDH Logistics, Inc.,” court documents say.
While the suspected retirement-fund raiding at Trojan Horse is, if true, a shameful case of breaking fiduciary trust with employees, and the seizure of suspicious packages is a growing government cash-cow, the evidence against the post-office managers and their contractors has the flavor of old-fashioned Mobtown street culture.
Court documents show the Waverly manager, Wright, for example, in text- and voice-messages to the CS contractor, getting hot and bothered over the CS’ failure to share the scheme’s proceeds in a timely fashion (Wright’s quotes are transcribed verbatim from the court documents, misspellings and all):
“Yo bra u need to text or call me cause I need to get my loot! … U always be screwing me up with ur bs! I need my loot! … Why don’t u just leave a check and I can cash tomorrow! Don’t bs me man! Need my loot and Kim too! Call u and texted no answer! Ur business is bout to be cut off bra. … You burning bridges like a mafucka, bra. Put my money in my account today man. I don’t have time to keep waiting on you to get around to it, put my money in there. You got your money, I need to get my loot man. I don’t mow what your problem is, but I need to get my cash man, real talk.”
Eventually, Wright assumes a threatening tone, telling the CS that he’s “tired playing games witch you. So, like I say, I expect to hear from you today. If not, no problem I know where you at I come and find you,” the court documents state. This may have been disconcerting for the CS, since court documents allege that Wright is also a drug dealer and registered owner of a 9mm gun that he’s quick to load – though Wright has not been charged for violating drug or gun laws.
Community & Postal Workers United, a postal-workers’ protest group organized since 2012 to “fight Privatization and the decrease in customer service” at USPS, according to its website, has a saying: “Are we going to let greed & corruption destroy the Post Office? ? ? ….. NOOO! ! !” Looks like law enforcers have been doing their part to heed this call in Maryland.