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ARRESTS MADE IN WIDESPREAD MAIL THEFT INVESTIGATION, U.S. POSTAL INSPECTION SERVICES SAYS

 SEATTLE, March 8 /PRNewswire/ -- U.S. Attorney Mike McKay and Postal Inspector in Charge Gerald A. Miera today announced the arrests of William C. Bridwell, age 28, of Renton, Wash., and Kelly L. Whitaker, age 27, also of Renton at Seattle on Federal Mail Theft and Possession of Stolen Mail charges, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service said.
 Miera stated that a seven count Criminal Complaint filed in U.S. District Court at Seattle on Feb. 24, 1993, outlines a mail theft scheme from September to December 1992 by which Bridwell and Whitaker obtained counterfeit keys allowing them access to street Postal Service relay and collection boxes in Seattle's Capitol Hill area. Collection boxes are utilized by the public to place mail intended for pick-up and later delivery by the Postal Service. Relay boxes are used by the Postal Service for the temporary storage of mail awaiting final delivery.
 According to the complaint, Bridwell and Whitaker also utilized counterfeit keys to gain entrance to apartments and condominiums in the Capitol Hill and Broadway areas of Seattle and to residents' mailboxes inside these locations. The scheme involved stealing credit cards and bulk mailing packets of blank checks sent by check printing companies to residents. Outgoing check letters left by customers for pick up by the Postal Service were also stolen. These checks were subsequently "chemically washed" of all handwriting; rewritten to a new payee with a new amount; and then negotiated at banks throughout the greater Seattle area.
 The complaint alleges Bridwell and Whitaker used the blank checks to conduct a "split deposit" or "cash back" scheme. The stolen checks on one account were made payable to a second victim and then deposited into that victim's account with a portion of the deposit being taken as cash back.
 Miera advised 159 stolen checks were successfully negotiated resulting in losses in excess of $30,000 to area banks. "The complaint relates important information we received from concerned citizens who reported suspicious activity around our relay boxes. We believe other persons are involved in this scheme, and we ask the public's continued help in bringing them to justice," Miera said. He advised the Postal Inspection Service is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information which leads to the arrest and conviction of anyone stealing mail. Persons with such information should call the Seattle Postal Inspectors at 206-442-6300.
 On March 8, Bridwell and Whitaker appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge David E. Wilson. Bridwell was released on his own recognizance. Whitaker was released after her mother posted $80,000 personal property as a surety bond. A probable cause preliminary hearing for Bridwell and Whitaker has been set for March 29, 1993, before Magistrate Judge Wilson.
 The penalty upon conviction for theft/possession of stolen mail is up to five years and/or a $250,000 fine for each count. McKay cautioned that the charges contained in the federal complaint are accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury at trial.
 The Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service, responsible for enforcing more than 105 federal statutes that relate to the U.S. Mail. Postal inspectors are federal law enforcement agents. They have the power to make arrests and carry firearms. Postal inspectors receive training similar to other law enforcement agents.
 -0- 3/8/93
 /CONTACT: James D. Bordenet, postal inspector, of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, 206-442-6134/


CO: U.S. Postal Inspection Service ST: Washington IN: SU:

LM-LA -- SE013 -- 4297 03/08/93 20:41 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Mar 8, 1993
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