With Start of Holiday Gift Giving Season, NJ Congressman Sounds Alarm on Post Office Pirates

Photo: Gottheimer at the Palisades Avenue Teaneck Post Office sounding the alarm on years of stolen checks and mail fraud.

TEANECK, NJ — Today, November 29, 2022, with the start of the holiday gift giving season, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) spoke outside the Teaneck post office on Palisades Avenue to demand action and answers from the United States Postal Service (USPS) after years of stolen checks and mail fraud that have cost North Jersey families millions of dollars and trust in their local post office.

Beginning in 2020, at the Palisades Avenue Teaneck Post Office, there were reportedly hundreds of stolen checks and countless incidents of mail fraud. Many of the checks residents mailed were altered, including the recipient’s name and the amount of the check. This is a criminal act called check washing.

According to an audit by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the USPS in 2021, mail theft complaints increased by 161% from March 2020 to February 2021.

In many cases of mail fraud and theft, families have not gotten their money back. These post office issues make life incredibly difficult for hard press families and seniors living on fixed incomes.

During the holiday season last year, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, USPS processed 13.2 billion letters, cards, flats and packages for delivery. That doesn’t include the billions of Social Security checks, medicine, veterans benefits, bills, cards, and packages sent all of the other months of the year.

Despite continued reports of stolen checks and missing mail, the OIG has not completed their investigation in Teaneck and has shared no substantive information. OIG first told Gottheimer that they would have a resolution on these cases in July. It was then delayed to August, then to October, then to the end of November, and now as of last week, OIG stated that their investigation will take several more months.

Gottheimer was joined by Teaneck Councilman Michael Pagan and Teaneck resident Jeremy Lentz, who were both victims of mail fraud and check washing. Councilman Pagan had one check cashed by someone other than the intended recipient, and another check intended as a donation to the New Jersey Police Honor Legion washed from $100 to $7,000 and cashed to a complete stranger.

Teaneck resident Jeremy Lentz had a check stolen and altered from $100 to $6,000. After the thief unsuccessfully tried to cash the check, they changed the name of the recipient and attempted to cash it again. Jeremy had to close out his bank account and open a new one. Gottheimer’s office is currently working with many other Fifth District residents who have been affected. One constituent had five of their checks stolen and altered, totaling nearly $25,000.

Actions Gottheimer announced today to address the rampant issues at the Palisades Avenue Teaneck Post Office include:

  • Sending a letter to U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy demanding that he make public what concrete actions are being taken to improve operations at this post office, and those across the country, to prevent the rampant theft and postal crimes, especially during the holiday season surge.
  • Calling on the USPS Inspector General to stop the double talk and move into hyper drive on this investigation. It is time we know how all of this happened and what has been done to prevent this from happening again.
  • Calling on the Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of USPS to redouble their efforts to get to the bottom of the many open cases of stolen and lost property here in Teaneck.

Earlier this month in Congress, Gottheimer questioned Tammy Hull, the USPS Inspector General, before the Congressional House Oversight Committee about how the agency plans to combat the dramatic increase in mail theft and stolen checks. Her response was that they are working on the investigation — more double talk as residents suffer from the incompetency and criminal acts at this post office.

“Unfortunately, here in Teaneck, because of an egregious lack of oversight and action at this post office, far too many residents have to worry that they could be the next victim of mail fraud, and that the checks in those Christmas cards might get stolen or altered. The circus at the Palisades Avenue Teaneck Post Office has gone on long enough,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) today. “Our families deserve answers, and they deserve to know that USPS is doing everything they can to ensure that their gifts, mail, checks, veterans benefits, tax returns, Social Security checks, and life-saving medications are safe from thieves.”

“It’s really hard to trust your post office when millions of dollars are stolen from hundreds of residents. For more than two years now, our residents have been victimized and taken advantage of by criminals either inside this post office or from criminals fishing out checks from the local blue collection mailboxes you see located on corners throughout our township,” said Teaneck Councilman Michael Pagan. “The victims we are talking about are older adults living on fixed incomes, single parents with children, middle class families and everyone in between. The feds have been taking far too long to solve this crime which continues to plague Teaneck.”

“Ultimately, my check was washed and forged. I had to go through a lot of things with the bank to get that money back and it was a very troubling experience for me. I know that many other township residents have gone through the same or similar experiences and none of those checks I mailed that day ever got to their destination,” said Teaneck resident Jeremy Lentz.

Video of the announcement can be found here.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery: 

Thank you, Councilman Pagan for your leadership on this issue over the years, and Fifth District resident, Jeremy Lentz, for joining us and sharing your story. It makes a difference.

We’re here this morning, outside the Teaneck post office on Palisades Avenue, to demand action and answers from the United States Postal Service after years of stolen checks and mail fraud that have cost Jersey families millions of dollars and trust in their local post office.

With Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday just behind us, it’s officially off to the races on the holiday shopping season. That means lots of Christmas and Hanukkah gifts and holiday cards to families and loved ones in the mail. And I meant lots.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve of last year, the U.S. Postal Service, or USPS, processed more than 13.2 billion letters, cards, flats and packages for delivery. That doesn’t include the billions of Social Security checks, medicine, veterans benefits, bills, cards, and packages sent all of the other months of the year. Unfortunately, here in Teaneck, because of an egregious lack of oversight and action at this post office, far too many residents have to worry that they could be the next victim of mail fraud, and that the checks in those Christmas cards might get stolen or altered.

Beginning in 2020, here at the Teaneck post office, there were reportedly hundreds of stolen checks and countless incidents of mail fraud. Many of the victims have included Fifth District residents whom my office has been working with. Many of the checks they sent were altered, including the recipient’s name and the amount of the check. It’s called check washing – and it costs their bank accounts dearly. And it led to tremendous stress and headaches.

You just heard from two residents who were victims of this type of mail fraud.

Councilman Pagan, a longtime resident of Teaneck, often used the post office to mail his checks. That was before he was a victim of mail fraud. One check he sent was cashed by someone other than the intended recipient, and another check was rewritten for $7,000 to a complete stranger. Thankfully, the Councilman was able to get his money back, but, you can imagine, he had to go through a ton of trouble. It just isn’t right.

Jeremy Lentz from Teaneck had a check stolen and altered from $100 to $6,000. When the thief first tried to cash the check, it was turned away. He tried again. Then the second time, the name of the recipient was changed and they attempted to cash it again. Because of this, Jeremy had to close out his bank account and open a new one.

My office is currently working with many other residents who have also been affected. One constituent had five of her checks stolen and altered totaling nearly $25,000. Can you imagine what she’s been through?

Here is my beef with this post office and the postal service. These victims did the right thing. They called me, they called the police, they told the post office. We did that same thing — even elevating to the regional Postmaster, the Inspector General, and the U.S. Postmaster General.

Many of these incidents first occurred three years ago.

Yet, three years later, despite an initial arrest of a post office employee at this facility, and recommendations to the local postmaster to improve mail security in and around Teaneck, families here are still dealing with mail fraud and theft.

I’m still getting calls about mail theft and checks being altered. And, despite my many calls to postal officials and the Office of the Inspector General (or the OIG), we still haven’t received any clear answers about what’s going on at this post office.

On behalf of the victims, the local officials, and families here in Teaneck, I’m sick and tired of the inaction.  The residents here deserve answers. We’ve heard from people in town who are even afraid to use the post office, and frankly, I don’t blame them. The USPS and Office of the Inspector General have let this issue linger on for far too long with no concrete updates on actions they’ve taken to correct the steady stream of theft and mail fraud.

If the USPS can’t get things right — here at just one local post office in Teaneck with countless issues — how in the world can we rely on them to properly handle billions of pieces of mail across the country?

To give you a sense of the problem, according to an audit by Office of the Inspector General in 2021, mail theft complaints increased by 161 percent from March 2020 to February 2021.

It’s time for serious action from the USPS in Teaneck and across the country.

That’s why this morning, I’m announcing new concrete steps to get to the bottom of the theft and mail-related crimes here at the Palisades Avenue post office, and at post offices across the country. This is especially important now during the holiday gift giving season.

As I mentioned, when I first heard about the reported thefts here, I immediately reached out to the USPS’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

Shortly after, an arrest was made for stealing checks and the OIG started a full-fledged investigation.

Now, despite continued reports of stolen checks and missing mail, the OIG continues to tell us, over and over again, that the investigation will be completed soon. No more information.

They told us that they would have a resolution on these cases back in July. It was then delayed to August, then to October, then to the end of November, and now they said their investigation will take several more months. What is going on with the Inspector General?

Earlier this month in Washington, I questioned Tammy Hull, the USPS Inspector General, before the Congressional Oversight Committee, about how the agency plans to combat the dramatic increase in mail theft and stolen checks. Her response was more of the same: that they are working on the investigation. More double talk, as residents suffer from the incompetency and criminal acts at this post office.

The circus at the Palisades Avenue Teaneck Post Office has gone on long enough and it’s time our community got answers.

This week, I am sending a letter to U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy demanding that he make public what concrete actions are being taken to improve operations at this post office, and those across the country, to prevent the rampant theft and postal crimes, especially during the holiday season surge. Are they using the latest technology, AI, or additional postal inspectors to combat the crime costing Americans millions of dollars a year? We need full transparency into what is being done to solve these serious problems. Their investigation has gone on for far too long without any substantive answers.

I’m also calling on the Inspector General to stop the excuses and move into hyper drive on this investigation. How did all of this happen — and what has been done to prevent this from happening again? We need answers now. Time is up.

Lastly, I’m calling on the Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of USPS, to redouble their efforts to get to the bottom of the many open cases of stolen and lost property here in Teaneck.

Our families deserve answers, and they deserve to know that USPS is doing everything they can to ensure that their gifts, mail, checks, veterans benefits, tax returns, Social Security checks, and life-saving medications are safe from thieves.

I want to thank everyone here for joining me today.

This vital service must be corrected — our families, small businesses, seniors, veterans all rely on the Postal Service. And there is nothing partisan about this.

If we work together, here in the greatest country in the world, I know that we will come out stronger than ever and our best days will always be ahead of us.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless these United States of America.