Posted at: 05/16/2013 9:01 PM
Updated at: 05/16/2013 11:36 PM
By: Janet Lomax
In the course of a single day, the U.S. Postal Service handles 550 million pieces of mail nationwide. Inside those packages, birthday cards and bills, college applications, letters to loved ones and illegal drugs. Those drugs end up in our community.
It doesn't want to be a drug courier, but it happens. The U.S. Postal Service is seeing an increase in the number of people trying to mail illegal drugs. But there's also an increase in the number of people being caught too. From 2006 to 2011, nationwide there was a 371% jump in the number of people sending packages with illegal drugs inside.
News10NBC's Janet Lomax sat down with a man whose job is to catch these criminals. She wanted to know how many of them are trying to use the U.S. Mail to deliver drugs in our area.
“Sam” is a U.S. Postal inspector, a gun toting federal agent who is part of the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service.
“Sam” said, “In some cases, the public isn't aware of what we do or that we exist.”
The public may not be aware, but criminals are, people who use the U.S. Mail to send illegal narcotics. News10NBC is protecting “Sam's” identity. We aren't showing his face because he comes face-to-face with the men and women caught. News10NBC is just calling him "Sam”.
Lomax asked, “So how are people sending illegal drugs through the mail?”
“Sam” said, “Picture frames and in and among dog food and children's toys or clothes. You name it. It's as multifaceted as the human imagination can be.”
Lomax asked, “Why should the general public care?”
“Sam” said, “When it comes into our communities, from countless young lives being lost to additions to violence. I would think that would be an overwhelming reason why folks should be concerned.”
As creative as drug dealers try to be, U.S.Postal inspectors are one step ahead in detecting illegal drugs in the mail. For obvious reasons, "Sam" can't tell us everything they do except to say they are trained to profile packages from the way they look right down to zip codes.
“Sam” said, “Postal inspectors have gotten, have gained a fair amount of expertise, in being able to recognize packages.”
He says, for the last two years, on average, there have been approximately 80 seizures a year of illegal drugs being sent through the U.S. Postal Service in western New York. Primarily, marijuana, cocaine, meth, heroin and prescription drugs. Most of the narcotics are coming from the west coast and southwestern states like Arizona and also Puerto Rico.
And "Sam" says on average they make between 20 and 30 arrests a year in our area, working with local, state and federal law enforcement. They're nabbing both the senders and the receivers. Some are teenagers but "Sam" says a vast majority are adults who he says should know better.
Lomax asked, “What kind of penalties would a person face?”
“Sam” said, “Imprisonment, fines, and in some cases, the penalties are pretty steep, 20 years or more in some cases. If you engage in this kind of activity, we will investigate you aggressively. We will seek you out. You will be found and you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Officials say people who try to use the U.S. Postal Service to mail illegal drugs point to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees privacy. “Sam” says no one, including a postal inspector can just open a piece of mail on a whim. There has to be a suspicion. And when there is, they go to a judge and get a search warrant.
Here are some tips for law abiding citizens: “Sam” says you can be arrested even if you didn't know illegal drugs were in a package you mailed or received. It sounds simple but postal inspectors say never accept or pick up a package for someone you don't know. If you do, you're taking a chance on meeting with a postal inspector in a way you'd rather not.