Police: ‘Boatloads’ of mail theft reported
by CHRIS ROGERS
Sherri Jo Genkinger has been Winona’s postmaster since 2011, but late last month, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) suspended her. According to USPS Office of Inspector General Assistant Special Agent in Charge Greg Godfrey, Genkinger was placed on “non-duty status,” meaning she was suspended from work, on October 25. Godfrey declined to explain why, adding, “This matter is an active investigation.”
The Postal Service has not explained what the focus of the investigation is and did not confirm whether Genkinger is the subject of the investigation. USPS officials referred questions about her suspension to the Office of Inspector General (OIG), a law enforcement arm of the USPS set up to “investigate internal crimes and fraud against the Postal Service.” The USPS has a different law enforcement branch, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, that handles general law enforcement investigations. The OIG focuses particularly on problems within USPS ranks. “OIG investigative efforts detect fraud, waste and misconduct by postal personnel and those who contract with the U.S. Postal Service,” according to the agency’s website. For instance, one OIG investigation led to a Wisconsin postal employee being sentenced to five years of probation for stealing rebate checks out of the mail. Another investigation in Nebraska found that a mailman stole personal information from victims and took out credit cards in their names; he was sentenced to nine months in prison.
‘Boatload’ of mail theft
The postmaster’s suspension is not the only issue facing the Winona post office. For several years, Winona area residents have reported incidents of suspected mail theft. In 2013, one Winonan sent a letter containing a check; upon delivery, the envelope was torn and the check was missing. Other local residents reported missing letters and cards. At the time, postal inspectors declined to comment on whether they were investigating the problem. This year, another Winonan reported that two letters containing checks went missing within the last 12 months and stated that one was used to forge checks.
In an interview this week, Winona Deputy Chief of Police Tom Williams said, “There is a boatload of theft.” He explained, “For about three months we’ve been having a boatload of issues with packages taken off people’s porches, checks taken out of what are believed to be mailboxes, or stuff that just doesn’t make it.” Some of these thefts could be the result of ordinary thievery, and the Winona Police Department (WPD) has charged a couple Winonans with stealing packages. However, there are other cases that are more difficult to investigate, Williams stated.
One Winona man recently told police that a check he sent to federal tax collectors went missing. “He says he mailed it,” Williams stated. “He says the check hasn’t been cashed. Did the federal government lose it? Did the post office lose it? Did he address it wrong? I don’t know.”
Missing mail could be the result of mail theft inside the Postal Service, it could be the result of an outside thief fishing letters out of a collection box, it could be the result of senders’ errors, or it could simply be lost, Williams stated. “Whenever it involves the theft of mail, that’s when we ask the Postal Service to help us,” he added.
Asked if he was aware of Winona’s mail theft problem, Godfrey, who is based in Denver, Colo., responded, “I’m not specifically aware of it because I’m not from that area, but we do investigate those types of situations, and when people report theft of their mail, we do take it seriously and we do investigate it.”
On June 5, a Winona resident reported a lottery ticket being stolen out of the mail. “There was a complaint of a letter that was dropped off that contained a lottery ticket, and we’re trying to determine who had the mail, who had access to it, did it ever get delivered, did it get taken out of a mail box,” Williams explained. Asked if he was aware of anyone trying to redeem the stolen lottery ticket, Williams responded, “I’m aware of it, but it’s an open investigation and I can’t comment any further on it. No charges have been filed.”
In emails and in an interview, Godfrey declined to comment on whether there was any connection between missing mail in Winona and Genkinger’s suspension. “It is important to note that an allegation is merely an accusation. All persons are presumed innocent unless otherwise adjudicated by a court of law,” he wrote. In an interview, Godfrey said, “I really can’t comment any further due to privacy issues and an ongoing investigation.” He added, “The bottom line is, again, we have to respect the process and individual rights … We try to do that until these issues can get resolved in an appropriate court or administrative [process].”