LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — A Leola postal worker is accused of stealing nearly $700,000 from checks sent in the mail.
Jennesy Rodriguez, 26, was charged with 436 criminal counts, including 103 felony charges. According to police, she stole at least 50 checks before altering the amounts and recipients on the checks and cashing them.
Victims of the scam include several Lancaster County businesses, such as Weaver’s Store in Denver. Manager Samuel Ebersole said some of the affected businesses, including Weaver’s, are run by Amish people who did not want to speak on camera.
“It was disappointing,” Ebersole said. “You lose your trust a little bit in the mail service. I’m trying to mail fewer checks if I can. If I can pay online, I will pay online.”
Veritas Academy in Upper Leacock Township was instrumental in identifying a pattern of stolen checks.
Head of School Ty Fischer was contacted by a donor about a stolen check. The donor said their bank had alerted them that the $400 check had been changed to $1,800 and cashed.
Fischer discussed the incident with another school official.
“I said, 'I just wanted you to know that one of our donations got tampered with,' said Fischer. "And he just kind of froze and he said, ‘One of our tuition checks got tampered with as well.’”
The school ended up having three checks stolen—two donations and one tuition check—that were changed to total more than $58,000.
School leaders checked their internal chain of custody, as well as their security cameras, and came to the conclusion that the mail was getting lost before it arrived. They also noticed the mail was not delivered on the same days those checks would have come in.
They alerted law enforcement, including East Lampeter Township Police and the United States Postal Service Office of the Inspector General.
Suspecting Rodriguez, officials secretly placed a camera in her postal vehicle that recorded her examining and pocketing mail.
“The mail is kind of sacrosanct,” Fischer said. “If you put a check in the mail, you believe it’s going to go to the place where you want it to go.”
The U.S. Postal Service responded to the incident in the following statement:
“While employee actions, including discipline or termination are not public and are protected by privacy laws, I can tell you that this employee has not been interacting with the mail since her arrest.
The conduct alleged here is in no way representative of the 650,000 postal employees nationwide who take great pride in delivering for America and safeguarding our nations mail.
The Postal Inspection Service, Postal Police and the Office of the Inspector General work in concert to protect the sanctity of the mail and investigate any mail related crimes. This arrest is an example of how effective their oversight is.
Theft of mail from residential mailboxes does occur and customers are urged to mail items directly at their local post office or from a secure blue collection box.”
Most of the stolen checks were flagged by banks and recredited to victims, according to police. Still, hearing about the scam has made some locals wary of sending checks in the mail.
“I usually do my online banking," said Scott Alfer of Middletown. “[It's] just more convenient. I sit in my house and do it.”
Meanwhile, Fischer of Veritas Academy said he fully trusts the Postal Service and won’t change anything about mailing and receiving checks: “Especially now that the person that we at the school affectionately termed ‘the check chief’ has been caught."