A Fremont, California letter carrier has been charged with stealing at least ten cell phones from mail he was supposed to deliver. Romeo Moog Talag, 56, of Hayward CA, with 16 years in the postal service, was charged Tuesday in Federal Court in Oakland.
Special Agent Michael Appio of the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General described the charges in an affidavit:
In January 2013, I began receiving reports that mail parcels processed through the Irvington Post Office in Fremont, CA, were recovered by employees in rifled condition and/or reported by customers as missing. The majority of the parcels were said to contain high-end smartphones including Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxy models.
On or about August 27, 2013, I was informed that AT&T customer M. R. claimed non-delivery of a Priority Mail parcel containing a Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone valued at approximately $639.00 dollars. Tracking data showed the last scan was an “Available for Pickup” scan at the Irvington Post Office on August 16, 2013. AT&T reported the missing telephone was assigned International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number 356567053061766, was currently in use, and had been activated on August 16, 2013, on a cellular account in the name of Justine Talag. (An IMEI number is a unique 15-digit number assigned to all cellular devices.)
I queried USPS databases and found that the only USPS employee with the same last name as Justine was Romeo Moog TALAG. Records showed TALAG was currently employed as a City Carrier at the Irvington Post Office in Fremont, CA, and began working for USPS on or about July 18, 1998. After conducting various investigative inquiries I determined that Justine Talag is Romeo TALAG’s daughter.
I reviewed TALAG’s Official Personnel Folder and noted that it contains a copy of Postal Service (PS) Form 8139 – Your Role in Protecting the Security of the United States Mail. This form was signed by TALAG on April 9, 1998, and reads, in part, “As a Postal Service employee you must preserve and protect the security of all mail in your custody from unauthorized opening, inspection, tampering, delay, reading of the contents or covers, or other unauthorized acts… Any postal employee committing or allowing any of these unauthorized acts is subject to administrative discipline and/or criminal prosecution.” The acknowledgement portion of the PS Form 8139 reads, in part, “I fully understand that it is a crime, punishable by fine or imprisonment, or both, to knowingly or willfully obstruct or delay the mail, or to steal or attempt to steal mail of any kind, even if it appears to be worthless, or to allow others to do so.”
On September 16, 2013, OIG SA J. Flanigan and I conducted a voluntary interview of TALAG at the Irvington Post Office in Fremont, CA. We identified ourselves to TALAG by displaying our credentials and I informed TALAG that we wished to speak with him regarding a missing Priority Mail parcel that contained a Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone. Prior to questioning, I advised TALAG of his employee rights by providing him with a copy of the Garrity Acknowledgement of Rights form.1 TALAG acknowledged his rights verbally and via signature and voluntarily agreed to speak with us.
I informed TALAG that records obtained from AT&T showed the missing Samsung Galaxy smartphone was activated on an account listed in the name of Justine Talag. I further informed TALAG that the telephone had been stolen from the Irvington Post Office. TALAG said, “I don’t know, sir. I tell you the truth. My daughter is using a Samsung III.” I then asked TALAG to explain how a smartphone stolen from the post office where he worked was activated on his daughter’s account if TALAG was not involved with the theft. TALAG responded, “I cannot answer that, sir. I don’t understand what’s happened. I’m surprised.”
I noticed a cellular telephone in the left front chest pocket of TALAG’s uniform shirt and asked him where he obtained it. TALAG removed the telephone from his pocket and said, “I bought this phone on Craigslist.” I observed the telephone was a black Samsung Galaxy S4. I asked TALAG if the telephone number for the Galaxy S4 was 510-688-1190 and TALAG replied in the affirmative. I informed TALAG the telephone color, model, and phone number matched the information provided by AT&T relative to the stolen telephone. I then asked TALAG if the Galaxy S4 he had removed from his pocket was the stolen smartphone in question. TALAG reacted to this question by putting his head down and shaking it side to side, closing his eyes, and exhaling deeply. TALAG then said, “So I’m the one stealing?” A moment later TALAG pointed at the Galaxy S4 and said, “I’m sorry for that.” I asked TALAG how
many telephones he had stolen from the post office and TALAG replied, “Right now, that’s the only one. That’s it.” I verified the IMEI on the phone matched the IMEI number supplied by AT&T for the stolen Samsung smartphone.
I asked TALAG to explain how he came to be in possession of the stolen Samsung telephone and TALAG said, “The phone already open in my hamper.” When questioned about policy and procedure regarding open parcels or mail belonging to another route, TALAG said opened or miss-sorted mail was supposed to be returned to the post office. TALAG later admitted stealing approximately ten telephones from the mail over the course of approximately two years. TALAG subsequently provided two written, sworn statements
wherein he admitted to stealing multiple cellular telephones from the U.S. Mail.
Also on September 16, 2013, TALAG provided me with written consent to search his vehicles and residence. SA Flanigan and I conducted these searches subsequent to TALAG’s interview and seized numerous cellular telephones and cellular telephone parts, a cellular telephone box, cellular telephone manuals and packaging, a rifled birthday card in a green envelope, and a $50 Wal-Mart Visa gift card. With the exception of the Wal-Mart gift card, TALAG identified all the items located by the agents as items he had stolen from the mail. TALAG initially claimed the Wal-Mart gift card was a gift from his daughter but later said he may have stolen it from the mail.
During the consent search of TALAG’s residence, I observed a black Apple iPhone 5 box bottom in the kitchen. I noted the box was labeled with IMEI number 013334002155479 on it. When questioned about the box, TALAG said it was from a phone he lawfully possessed. As I had had no information to indicate the iPhone 5 box bottom was associated with a stolen phone, I photographed it but it but did not seize it.
On September 20, 2013, OIG SA E. Moon and I sorted through recycled items that had been collected from the street in front of TALAG’s residence by the contracted recycling company. While examining items in the recycle bin, I located the aforementioned Apple iPhone 5 box bottom.
I contacted AT&T Asset Protection regarding original purchaser data related to IMEI number 013334002155479. AT&T reported that IMEI number was assigned to an Apple iPhone 5 that was originally purchased by J. R. in Fremont, CA, on or about October 30, 2012. I queried USPS databases and learned that J. R’s address was a delivery point on TALAG’s assigned route at the time of mailing. AT&T further informed me that this device was subsequently activated on the same cellular account linked to TALAG as described in paragraph 11.
I interviewed J.R. regarding the Apple iPhone 5. J.R. told me his wife had bought him a black Apple iPhone 5 sometime in October 2012. J.R. said the parcel containing the iPhone was scanned as delivered but never received by him or his wife. J.R. said he reported the phone as stolen and ultimately received a replacement. J.R. said he did not know TALAG and did not give him permission to open the parcel containing his iPhone or to use or possess his iPhone.