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Ex-postal worker pleads guilty to mail theft

By Alex Bridges-abridges@nvdaily.com

HARRISONBURG -- A deaf Strasburg man may serve prison time for stealing mail he carried as a postal worker in Winchester.

Jason McKinley Dean, 30, of 357 Brown St., pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg to committing one count of theft or embezzlement by a postal service worker. The offense carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Dean entered the plea under an agreement reached between Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Allessandra E. Stewart and his appointed counsel, Joel C. Hoppe. A grand jury in June also had indicted Dean on one count of destroying, hiding and/or opening one or more pieces of mail.

U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski accepted the plea agreement and scheduled Dean's sentencing for Dec. 14.

The case came as a result of an investigation conducted by the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General regarding the carrier's theft of mail from September 2009 through May 10, 2010, according to a statement of facts by the prosecution.

Michael Fenner, delivery supervisor at Winchester's main post office, began receiving customer complaints about missing greeting cards and parcels scanned as "delivered" but never received, the document states.

Reported losses corresponded with dates and routes Dean worked, according to the statement. Special Agent Joy Younce met with Fenner on April 14, April 30 and May 20, 2010, and placed controlled test pieces in mail designated for the defendant's route, the document states. The pieces never arrived, the statement notes.

Younce searched trash at Dean's residence on April 30, 2010, and recovered 230 pieces of "rifled First-Class mail," which contained numerous checks totaling $3,662 and gift cards valued at $175, the statement notes.

Agents conducted surveillance of Dean's vehicle on May 20, 2010, by using a letter beacon placed in a test piece, according to the statement. Agents observed Dean stop in a parking lot for five minutes before the beacon alarm sounded indicating he had removed $200 from the test piece, the statement notes. Authorities stopped the vehicle just before 10:30 a.m. and Special Agent Steven Mason saw Dean holding money and a white envelope in his hand, according to the statement. Dean later admitted to agents he opened mail and took checks and gift cards, the statement notes.

Hoppe had sought to suppress his client's statements to authorities on the grounds that agents did not clearly explain to Dean, who is deaf, his Miranda rights.

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