A week before a United States Postal Service employee will be sentenced for stealing mail in Milwaukee County, another worker here has been found guilty of the same act.
Thomas P. Gunderson of Franklin pleaded guilty to embezzlement of mail matter on Nov. 29 and will be sentenced at a later date, according to online federal court records.
He could face five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The latest mail theft comes on the heels of two local cases involving U.S. Postal Service workers.
Ebony L. Smith, 20, of Milwaukee admitted to stealing more than 6,000 greeting cards filled with cash and checks in Wauwatosa from April 2017 to January 2018. As part of a plea deal, Smith pleaded guilty Sept. 12 to theft or receipt of stolen mail; she was scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 14 but that hearing was recently changed to Feb. 8.
Meanwhile, Lavonda K. Wright will be sentenced next week for the same crime. She pleaded guilty in August. Wright admitted to stealing gift cards from mail she was delivering on Milwaukee’s west side for more than a year, according to her plea agreement. She is set to be sentenced at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 7 at the Milwaukee Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse.
Similar to how the Smith case began, the Gunderson case started when Wauwatosa residents complained to the U.S. Postal Service that they were not receiving graduation, wedding, birthday and sympathy cards.
On Aug. 11, 2017, a customer service supervisor at the Wauwatosa Post Office branch reported mail was being stolen either at the Wauwatosa Branch or the Milwaukee processing and distribution center.
The supervisor reported that mail carriers at her branch found greeting cards that had been rifled through in the delivery point sequence trays that had been delivered from the Milwaukee branch to the Wauwatosa branch. The greeting cards were postmarked on four dates in August 2017 (Aug. 14, 23, 24 and 25).
Police catch Gunderson in the act
Online court documents show how Gunderson was caught.
On Sept. 5, 2017, a law-enforcement agent prepared two “test pieces” of first-class mail. Both were greeting cards — one pink and one green. Each contained a $20 bill and was placed in a mail bin. Agents also set up video surveillance in the mail facility. While working that day, Gunderson opened a “live test” envelope and stole the money, the video showed.
Gunderson also rifled through other pieces of mail he took from the mail stream and put the items in his pockets, the video showed. He was arrested by agents that evening. After searching his pockets, agents found $55 in cash, as well as a test piece of mail.
Gunderson admitted that over the previous 52 days, he had removed about $100 per night from greeting cards processed by his machines, totaling $5,200.
Gunderson told agents he had been stealing money from the mail for “about a few months,” since the beginning of the summer. He told agents he would look for greeting cards because he knew they would likely contain cash. He said he would open greeting cards and put any money he found in his pocket.
He admitted that he had rifled through each of the 59 pieces of mail that agents showed him.
Gunderson further admitted he kept the money he removed from mail in a dresser drawer in his Franklin home. On Sept. 6, 2017, agents accompanied Gunderson to his home and, with Gunderson’s consent, searched his dresser, where they found $1,929 in cash. Gunderson stated the money from the dresser was money he had stolen from the mail, according to court documents.
What happens to stolen mail?
The U.S. Postal Service does its best to return stolen and recovered mail to mailers or recipients, according to Jeff Arney, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General in Chicago.
“If we recover mail, we make every attempt to work with the Postal Service to get the mail back to its intended recipient,” he said. “We usually provide them a way to contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Once the person is prosecuted, the judge can order that they pay back restitution to the victims.”
Arney said some pieces of mail are used as evidence, but it depends on the case. Sometimes the mail is damaged, so the USPS is unable to return it.