Maryland Senate passes mail theft bill

If enacted, it would join more than a dozen states with statutes aimed at helping the federal government secure the mail.
A postal worker empties a box near the Fiserv Forum on Aug. 18, 2020, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

The unabated scourge of mail theft in recent years is spurring states to find ways to take on some of the crime-fighting load from federal law enforcement and courts.

The Maryland Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would create a new statute for crimes that have stretched the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s investigative capacities: robbing letter carriers of the keys they use to open blue mail collection boxes and then stealing mail from the boxes to commit fraud. If enacted, Maryland would join more than a dozen states with mail theft laws.

Even with a renewed push on the national level to stem the rash of thefts and robberies, state legislators, local prosecutors and postal leaders say state laws provide another avenue to make the system that Americans across the country rely on more secure.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the postal inspectors, and other actors in the federal government have encouraged states to independently prosecute mail thefts,” Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D), the bill’s sponsor, said in an interview. “At least 14 states have taken the feds up on that offer and now have independent mail theft statutes, and I strongly feel that Maryland should do the same.”

The U.S Postal Service and Postal Inspection Service released an update Tuesday on the initiative they launched in May 2023 in response to a rise in crime to further protect postal workers and ensure mail and packages are secure. The services said they have upgraded 15,000 collection boxes in high postal crime areas and conducted law enforcement surge operations — leveraging partnerships across levels — in Chicago, San Francisco and several Ohio cities.

Postal inspectors have made more than 1,200 arrests in the past 10 months for letter carrier robberies and mail theft, and arrests are up 73% for letter carrier robberies so far in Fiscal Year 2024 over the same time period in the previous year, the services said.

“We’re upgrading our blue collection boxes, we’re doing some public awareness campaigns,” Louis DiRienzo, the Postal Inspection Service’s chief counsel, said at a Maryland House Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill in January. “But this sort of legislation is key — it’s another tool that we can supplement the federal statutes and regulations that make possession of stolen mail and these arrow keys a felony.”

Many states have increased penalties for porch piracy in recent years, as online shopping leads to a new crime trend. But porch piracy is a separate issue.

DiRienzo, Waldstreicher and Del. Jared Solomon (D), who is sponsoring the House companion bill, emphasized that the legislation is aimed at cracking down on violent robberies of letter carriers for their keys and the next steps organized criminals take.

Mail theft from the collection boxes often leads to stealing, washing and writing fraudulent checks, as well as selling personal identifiable information on the dark web that can lead to even more financial crimes.

Those potential financial crimes stemming from mail theft affected how the bills were written. The amended bill the Senate passed would make stealing less than 16 pieces of mail a misdemeanor and more than 16 a felony punishable by up to 2 years in prison. Possession of an arrow key with the intent to use it to steal mail would be a felony punishable by up to three years in prison, and stealing mail with an arrow key would mean a maximum of five years.

“How do you value a mail key when you apprehend somebody?” Solomon, who like Waldstreicher represents a district that abuts Washington, D.C., said at the January judiciary hearing. “How do you value a piece of mail that on its face value may be worth next to nothing, but if you wash that check and write in $5,000 or $10,000 or you steal somebody’s personal identifiable information could cause incredible damage and harm to them?”

Nevada last year became the latest state to create a mail theft statute. California, Kentucky, Texas and Washington are among the other states with mail theft laws on the books. There is also legislation in the U.S. House and Senate aimed at enhancing the Postal Service’s ability to prevent and fight mail theft.

“This stuff is devastating when it happens,” Waldstreicher said, “because the amount of paperwork and documentation and trips to the bank and calls to Social Security that have to happen with everyday mail theft is just overwhelming.”