Mail theft is tied closely to a multitude of crimes, most of them involving the making of false statements or representations in order to receive a benefit. Thieves target government checks, credit card applications, and official pieces of mail containing sensitive identifying information that can be used to complete fraudulent financial transactions.

The federal criminal includes several specific fraud statutes that give federal courts jurisdiction in nearly all fraud cases that involve the U.S. mail. Certain crimes that arise from theft of the U.S. mail may be prosecuted under New York state law, such as identity theft.

Identity Theft in the Third Degree, a base charge that applies if someone intentionally takes another person’s identity and present themselves as that person to obtain money, property, or services, is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by 1 year in prison and / or a fine of up to $1,000.

Identity Theft in the Second Degree is a Class E felony that can be punished by up to 4 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Identity Theft in the First Degree is a Class D felony that applies if a person intentionally takes another person’s identity and uses their information to obtain over $2,000 worth of money, property, services, or credit. It can be punished by up to 7 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Mail theft is nearly always prosecuted federally, where it carries harsher penalties. A federal conviction also has devastating consequences on one’s personal and professional future. Anyone charged with an offense involving the U.S. mail needs to speak to a New York criminal defense attorney before making any kind of statement to law enforcement.

On November 13, 2013, Melvin Duarte was sentenced to 120 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, in addition to an order to forfeit $15 million. In a federal court in New York the previous June, Duarte had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one count of conspiracy to steal mail and one count of mail theft. Duarte had participated in a large-scale tax and mail theft scheme.

Co-conspirators in the Dominican Republic and other foreign locations electronically filed fraudulent federal tax returns, seeking millions of dollars in tax refunds. These fraudulent returns were filed using identifying information stolen from residents of Puerto Rico. Each tax return falsely represented that the recipient resided at an address in the Bronx, where the checks were then stolen by letter carriers in exchange for a kickback on each check. The checks were cashed at various banks and check-cashing businesses located in the U.S. and the Dominican Republic.

Mental disease / defect, false accusation, and proven lack of intent to knowingly commit an illegal act can all be presented as defenses. If a defendant is charged with possession of stolen mail, they may argue that they were unaware that the item was in their possession.

Under 18 U.S. Code § 1708, which covers theft or receipt of stolen mail matter generally, anyone who steals and / or benefits from an act of mail theft shall be fined or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.