By Kathy Jefcoats
ATLANTA — A Stockbridge man who worked as a supervisor at an Atlanta mail distribution facility pleaded guilty in Federal Court Monday to stealing nearly $3 million in checks, officials said.
U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said Gerald Eason, 47, admitted to stealing more than 1,300 checks worth more than $2.8 million. Eason told U.S. District Court Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr. he conspired with another postal worker, Deborah Fambro-Echols, 49, of Hapeville, to steal and cash additional U.S. Treasury checks.
Fambro-Echols pleaded guilty Nov. 26. Four other defendants, Wendy Frasier, 35, and Daralyn M. Weaver, 31, both of Atlanta, Jabril O. McKee, 25, of Fairburn, and Ohmar D. Braden, 36, of Lithonia, have also pleaded guilty in the case for their roles in the scheme.
Yates said the checks included benefits from tax refunds, and Social Security and Veterans administrations. Officials put together a task force last year to address the problem of stolen federal checks after Georgia achieved an unfortunate ranking.
“At that time, our state ranked third in the country in the number of federal tax refund, Social Security, and Veterans checks reported stolen by their intended recipients,” she said. “With today’s pleas, we have taken two corrupt postal workers, including a supervisor, off the streets who were responsible for stealing thousands of checks worth over $3 million.”
Yates said Eason worked as a supervisor at the Atlanta Processing and Distribution Center, a centralized mail distribution center on Crown Road. That facility processes mail for delivery to dozens of zip codes in Georgia. Fambro-Echols worked as a mail handler at the facility.
“While on the job, Eason and Fambro-Echols stole thousands of U.S. Treasury checks and provided them to a network of brokers and check cashers who would then negotiate the checks and split the criminal proceeds with Eason and Fambro-Echols,” she said. “These individuals forged endorsements and used fake identifications to pose as the intended recipients of the checks when cashing them.”
In April 2011, law enforcement authorities searched Fambro-Echols’ residence in Hapeville and found 661 Treasury checks totaling more than $590,000, said Yates.
“Almost all of the checks discovered during the search were dated from April 8 to April 19, 2011, and thus stolen over less than a two-week period,” she said. “On March 7 and March 11, Eason stole over 1,300 Treasury checks worth more than $2.8 million.”
Yates said federal agents video recorded him stealing the checks at the mail facility and then watched him drive the checks to a house, where he thought they would be distributed to co-conspirators who would cash them. He was arrested while attempting to collect his portion of the proceeds from the second delivery.
Frasier and Weaver acted as brokers for Fambro-Echols, said Yates. They recruited others to cash the stolen checks at banks and business establishments. McKee and Braden worked as check cashers in the scheme, negotiating stolen checks with the help of fake identification documents and sharing the proceeds with their co-conspirators.
Eason pleaded guilty to seven counts, including conspiracy, theft of government money and possession of stolen Treasury checks. Fambro-Echols pleaded guilty to conspiracy and theft of government money. Frasier and Weaver pleaded guilty to conspiracy and possession of stolen Treasury checks. McKee and Braden pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft.
These charges carry maximum sentences that range from five to 30 years in prison each and fines of up to $1 million per count. The aggravated identity theft charges carry a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in addition to any other sentence imposed.
The convictions don’t mean an end to the task force’s work, however, said Yates.
“We will continue to target these theft rings — both those on the inside and their network of check cashers — to address this serious problem,” she said.
Reginald G. Moore, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service’s Atlanta Field Office, agreed, emphasizing the need to aggressively pursue thieves.
“This case illustrates the importance of task force partnerships with state, local and federal law enforcement agencies in combating threats to our nation’s financial payment systems,” said Moore. “U.S. Treasury checks are still a vital part of that system. The U.S. Secret Service will continue to aggressively pursue anyone who violates the faith and trust citizens have in our financial infrastructure.”
The convicted postal employees are an anomaly in an agency filled with honest workers, said Paul Bowman, special agent in charge of the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General.
“Eason and Fambro-Echols reflect just a very small percentage of employees who failed to uphold the trust and integrity placed in them,” he said. “We take these cases very seriously and investigate them to the fullest extent of the law. The majority of Postal Service employees are honest, hardworking and committed to providing the timely and reliable service that customers expect and deserve.”
Special Agent in Charge Quentin G. Aucoin with the Office of Inspector General within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said stealing from veterans is especially egregious.
“Thefts of VA benefits checks intended for veterans who honorably served this country will not be tolerated,” he said. “VA OIG vigorously investigates allegations of criminal activities impacting VA programs.”
Pannell is expected to sentence the four Feb. 27.