Gangs of Meth Users Stealing Mail

Gangs of Meth Users Stealing Mail

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Postal inspectors say they are waging a growing battle along the Wasatch Front against loose-knit gangs of methamphetamine users who steal mail to support their drug habits.

The thieves steal personal checks, which are "washed," forged and then cashed, often with phony identification.

The cases have proliferated in recent years, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. In 2001, Utah had 12 volume mail thefts. That number spiked to more than 80 in 2002 and there have been 53 so far this year.

Volume mail theft refers to thefts from cluster-type mailboxes such as apartment panels, the blue collection boxes and postal trucks.

Postal inspector Terry Wilson estimates 95 and 99 percent of the mail thefts are by meth users, at least in the Salt Lake area.

"I guess they think it's an easy way to finance or purchase meth," he said.

Wilson said the groups involved with volume mail theft and check-washing communicate regularly.

Since January, Salt Lake City police have executed 70 search warrants on meth use. According to Salt Lake City police Sgt. Mike Ross, who heads the narcotics unit, eight of the past 10 warrant cases yielded stolen checks or forged documents.

"I would say 50 percent of the meth houses we go into have some kind of forgery system going on with checks," Ross said. "It is really unique. We don't see it with the other drugs."

Postal inspectors say they prefer to see U.S. mail theft cases prosecuted in federal court rather than on the state level because the sentences are often stiffer.

"The general assumption is, watch out for federal prosecution, you're really going to get hammered there," Wilson said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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