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Request handled shabbily.

Byline: Clive McFarlane

Elijah Sims, a man of meager means and modest ambition, the latter of which centers on providing for his family, had reasons Tuesday to wear that obligation a little lighter when he walked into the U.S. post office in Auburn.

As she had done annually, his aunt Jackie Sims-Bowman, a resident of South Carolina, had sent him a portion of her tax return, $1,000 in two $500 postal money orders, to buy post-Christmas cheer for his four children, among other things.

Mr. Sims presented the money orders to the clerk, and what happened next left him at a loss.

"I really can't grasp it. They treated me like a criminal for no reason,'' he said of postal officials.

"It doesn't make any sense. The only thing that comes to mind is that I had a bad day.''

Mr. Sims, who works in Auburn and lives in Southbridge, could have said the postal service officials also had a very bad day, but that would have been an understatement.

The minute he presented his money orders to the clerk, Mr. Sims came under suspicion. The money orders, according to the clerk, looked counterfeit. They were held up to the light several times and run through what appeared to Mr. Sims to have been an authentication machine.

After consulting with the postmaster, the clerk eventually cashed the money orders, but he and the postmaster were apparently still suspicious because they notified the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, as is required when a postmaster believes a money order has been altered.

Shortly after returning home, Mr. Sims received a call from a postal inspector who said he had determined the money orders to be counterfeit. Mr. Sims, he said, needed to immediately return the cash to the post office.

But Mr. Sims said he wouldn't be able return to the post office until the following morning. He also told the inspector, as he had told the clerk, to check with the Rembert post office in South Carolina, where his aunt had bought the money orders.

The postal inspector responded that he would be coming over to pick up the money. He arrived shortly afterward with two Southbridge detectives, a police sergeant and a police officer.

They entered Mr. Sims' home without permission and without a search warrant, he said. They held his fiancee, Latricia Anderson, and the couple's children in the kitchen, locked Mr. Sims in a bedroom and questioned him again about the money orders, according to the family.

The police eventually arrested Mr. Sims, not for suspicion of passing counterfeit money orders, but on an outstanding warrant for failing to pay the fines for an expired inspection sticker. He was taken to the police station in handcuffs. The cash from the money orders was confiscated and held for "investigative purposes'' by the police. He was released on $140 bail, which, incredibly, the postal inspector allowed him to pay out of the confiscated cash.

The following day the police, not the postal service, called to say the money orders had been cleared and Mr. Sims could pick up his cash. Apparently, the postal inspector finally got around to calling the Rembert post office, which confirmed the authenticity of the money orders.

According to a U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman, checking the money orders, cashing them and notifying the postal inspector were done by the book. A spokeswoman for the Postal Inspector's Office said an ongoing investigation into the incident prevents her from commenting.

But what happened here cannot be standard operating procedure, and at the very least someone from the postal service should have offered Mr. Sims an apology. That didn't happen, which seems to reflect a culture that nurtures this dehumanizing behavior.

Contact Clive McFarlane at
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:McFarlane, Clive
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 2, 2015
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