Alleged thief caught, suspected of stealing South Seattle mail
May 24, 2023, 11:06 AM | Updated: 11:36 am
Update 11:04 a.m.:
Federal authorities say they’ve arrested a man suspected of numerous mail thefts, including one that shut down deliveries to parts of South Seattle two weeks ago.
The 27-year-old man is a suspect in a series of mail vehicle and mail key thefts dating back to December of last year.
Authorities say he stole master keys and used them to open mailboxes across the Seattle area
The postal service halted deliveries in zip code “98118” for about a week earlier this month while investigators worked to track down and arrest him.
The suspected thief will appear in U.S. District Court in Seattle at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Update 5/15 12:40 p.m.:
The United States Postal Service (USPS) is now claiming mail delivery will start again Tuesday for residents in South Seattle.
Service was suspended last week for some people in the “98118” zip code, residents told KIRO Newsradio they were told a master mailbox key was stolen.
USPS said mail delivery was paused to fewer than 900 residents, and the total zip code covers around 49,000 people.
Some south Seattle residents are claiming a significant ‘mail fail’ is occurring as the United States Postal Service (USPS) has halted mail delivery due to a rise in recent vandalism and theft.
A sign at a nearby U.S. Postal Service office in Columbia City is telling residents in the “98118” zip code to pick up their mail in person at an annex office, located at 5920 Martin Luther King Jr Way South. The zip code covers around 49,000 people — but it’s unclear how many of them are not getting their mail delivered.
A visit to that annex office Thursday afternoon revealed a line of more than a dozen people waiting for their mail. A single employee was seen helping them.
One woman named Jenny told KIRO Newsradio that she had no official communication with USPS, but that her local postal carrier told her, “this was going to take a long while to fix and we had to come [to the annex office] to get our mail.”
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Seward Park resident Barbara Myers said her postal carrier told her the issue was caused by a recent theft.
“They haven’t been delivering mail for four days because a master key that operates all the boxes in Seward Park has been stolen,” Myers said.
Jenny stated she was told the same thing in her neighborhood.
“Apparently, master keys were stolen which makes it more serious right? Because it’s the whole south end … the whole zip code,” Jenny added.
When questioned about any thefts of mailbox master keys in that area, USPS Inspection Service spokesperson John Wiegand said there are active investigations, but declined to provide details.
“Property crime has been on the rise in the Seattle area, in the Northwest, and kind of across the country — and mail theft is unfortunately one of those areas that have been targeted significantly with that uptick in crime,” Wiegand said.
KIRO Newsradio also learned about a Columbia City apartment complex that was broken into in the early morning hours of May 4. According to Seattle police, two suspects wearing hoodies got into the building, broke open the cluster mailbox for all residents, and stole mail and packages. Police declined to reveal how much was stolen– or how the thieves got into the mailbox.
Residents told KIRO Newsradio this is the latest in a string of incidents. Kirk, who lives in Rainier Beach, said he and his neighbors’ mailboxes were destroyed about a month ago.
“Our mailbox is just burned and it’s wide open,” Kirk said.
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When he complained to USPS, he said they told him they wouldn’t be able to deliver any mail until the cluster mailbox was fixed, and it costs $2-3,000 to fix.
“I have to go to each neighbor and collect money,” Kirk added.
He said the USPS told him he could either get a P.O. Box or wait in line indefinitely at the annex office for his mail.
On Friday, U.S. Postal Service officials announced they will be replacing tens of thousands of antiquated keys used by postal carriers and installing thousands of high-security collection boxes to stop a surge in robberies and mail thefts.
“We are hardening targets — both physical and digital — to make them less desirable to thieves and working with our law enforcement partners to bring perpetrators to justice,” Postal Inspection Service Chief Gary Barksdale said in a statement.
Nationwide, 49,000 so-called “arrow locks” on mailboxes will now be replaced with electronic versions to make them less attractive to criminals. Those arrow locks can be opened with the same type of master key that residents claim was stolen in south Seattle.
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USPS is also placing 12,000 hardened blue collection boxes in high-risk areas.
“We are looking to get these kinds of things installed in the Seattle area,” John Wiegand said, but declined to say if south Seattle specifically qualifies as “high risk.” The Postal Service said Friday there were 38,500 thefts of mail from blue collection boxes in the 2022 fiscal year.
Mail theft carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. Possession, concealment, or disposal of property carries a sentence of as many as 10 years in prison. Assault carries a sentence of up to 10 years for a first offense, and up to 25 years for any subsequent offense, officials said. Federal prosecutors can also bring other charges, as well.
There’s no update on how long mail service could be paused. A sign at one of the affected apartment buildings in Columbia City mentions a 30-day hold — but Barbara Myers said she was told this could last “indefinitely”– and she says she’s not getting any updates from USPS.
“There’s no one to call, there’s no one to answer the phone, no answer for anything,” Myers said.
KIRO Newsradio has reached out to regional USPS officials for more information.