Brooklyn Heights

Cops nab alleged Brooklyn mail thief

84th Precinct: It was an inside job

April 27, 2023 Mary Frost
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BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Detectives from Brooklyn’s 84th Precinct have nailed one of the alleged perpetrators of the latest wave of mail thefts and “check washing” incidents in Brooklyn — and the suspect turns out to be a mail carrier. 

“I’m happy to announce our detectives were able to apprehend one mailman that was involved in washing checks and depositing them into different accounts or selling those checks,” the 84’s Commanding Officer Deputy Inspector Adeel Rana told a crowd at the precinct’s monthly Community Council meeting at Brooklyn Borough Hall on April 18. 

Rana declined to give more information, but added that the precinct’s detectives are working on leads from that case.

An NYPD spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday that cops arrested 39-year-old Calvin J. Brathwaite, a resident of Freehold, NJ, on the afternoon of April 12.

Brathwaite is charged with multiple counts of grand larceny in the 3rd and 4th degree; identity theft; multiple counts of criminal possession of stolen property in the 3rd degree; and multiple counts of unlawful possession of personal ID. 

Brathwaite was arrested after he was observed using a stolen credit card without permission, the police spokesperson said. Court records state that the incident leading to his arrest took place on Dec. 31, 2022. His next appearance in court will take place on June 21.

U.S. Postal Service Inspector Daniela Lella confirmed that the 84th Precinct detectives apprehended the mail carrier, and added that a USPS investigation is ongoing. 

“We are working diligently with our local law enforcement partners on this investigation.  Due to the integrity of the investigation, we cannot provide further details at this time,” Lella told the Brooklyn Eagle, adding, “If your readers have information, please contact us at 877-876-2455 (say “Law Enforcement”)  or via Twitter, @PostalInspector.”

A USPS warning about the safe times to mail checks, and a number to call if you see something “fishy.” Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

More sticky-fingered crooks out there

Brathwaite is far from the only person who might be involved in the recent rash of mail theft and check washing incidents in Brooklyn.

On March 23, an Eagle investigation found that the slots of most of the U.S. Postal Service mail boxes on the sidewalks of Hicks Street and Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights were coated with a sticky adhesive, a sign that thieves were using glue boards designed to trap vermin to “fish” mail out of the boxes.

Thieves get around theft-protection slots by tying strings to the flat, letter-sized glue traps and lowering them into the boxes. Besides acting as the “hook” used to fish out mail, the sticky residue can also prevent letters from falling all the way into the boxes.

Using a technique known as “check washing,” thieves apply common household chemicals to bleach off the intended payee’s name and make the checks out to themselves. They often add a few zeros to the amount. Sometimes they steal the victim’s identity (address, bank account numbers) as well.

“We have had about five checks stolen,” Betsy Rodgers, who lives with her husband Robert in the south Heights, told the Eagle in March.

“You don’t know about it for a month,” she said. “We were able to put a stop on three of the checks. We called the bank and they canceled them. The other two — the big ones — were cashed.”

This mailbox on Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights was one of numerous boxes on Henry and Hicks streets where the mail slot was recently coated with a sticky substance used by thieves. This particular box had a vermin glue trap stuck right under the mail slot when surveyed on Monday. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

Fortunately, the bank eventually returned their money.

Mailbox fishing is not the only way crooks are getting their hands on mailed checks. At least one co-op in Brooklyn Heights was the target of a string of mail theft incidents starting in 2021.

A copy of a stolen check obtained by a victim from his bank showed that both the amount and the payee had been “washed” and replaced, along with the signature. (The legitimate name was rewritten in the new, different handwriting.)

“The bank closed my account and then required me to open a new one,” the victim, who wished to remain unnamed, said. “As per the suggestion of the bank, I am now paying most of my bills online.”

The 84th Precinct’s Rana recommended that if people must write checks, they use Uni-Ball pens, which feature indelible ink.

Advice from USPS

  • Mail letters directly from the Post Office or pay bills online.
  • If you must use a street mailbox, use a Uni-Ball-style pen and deposit letters right before a pickup.
  • If you suspect your mail was stolen or see a theft happening, contact police immediately and then report it to Postal Inspectors at 877-876-2455.

If you see glue, tape, or any other sticky substances on a mailbox, report it to your post office, Postal Inspectors, or the New York Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). The USPIS can be reached at 212-330-2400; or online at www.uspsoig.gov/hotline.


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