Postal inspectors in Ohio on lookout for ‘suspicious’ packages to intercept

Illegal drugs often are bought and sold online and shipped through the mail, but postal authorities in recent years have seized hundreds of pounds of narcotics they discovered in Dayton’s mail stream.

Postal inspectors cannot open first-class letters and parcels without a search warrant, but they say they are trained to identify common characteristics of suspicious mail and drug-sniffing police dogs assist by providing alerts when they detect the presence or odor of illegal drugs or proceeds.

“One of the top priorities for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is to rid the mail of illicit drugs and the associated violence,” said David Gealey, a postal inspector with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. “We are able to accomplish this by focusing on illicit drug mailers and distribution rings, maintaining an aggressive drug parcel-detection program, and by seeking prosecution of mailers and recipients of illegal drugs to the fullest extent of the law.”

Drug traffickers often choose to use the U.S. Postal Service instead of private shipping companies because postal authorities must obtain search warrants to open packages, says a 2018 audit of the postal service network’s use for drug distribution, completed by the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General.

The Inspector General said more than 90% of the illegal drug websites that it searched on the dark web that identified their method of shipping named the Postal Service as their source of transport and delivery.

Drug traffickers like to sell drugs over the Internet because they believe it’s safer and they do not have to personally interact with buyers and the evolution of the dark web likely reduces the chances they will be detected and caught, the audit report says.

But since late 2018, postal inspectors have seized more than 590 pounds of narcotics that were concealed inside of packages and envelopes in Dayton’s postal system, according to data from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service that this newspaper obtained through a public records request.

Inspectors in recent years have filed many search warrant applications in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to obtain authorization to open mail they believed contained contraband.

The search warrants reveal that postal inspectors say packages with contraband often have some common characteristics, such as misspellings in the labeling information and excessive tape on the parcels.

Red flags also include no known associations between the listed senders and the return addresses and no known associations between the listed recipients and the mailing addresses, search warrant applications show.

Postal inspectors regularly check the names on the parcels against information in a law enforcement database to try to determine if they are non-existent or false.

Sometimes they learn the names on the mail belong to people who have known criminal or drug histories.

Other indicators include parcels being mailed from “known drug source locations” and parcels being mailed to addresses in areas that have known or suspected drug activities, court filings say.

In February 2021, U.S. postal inspector Joseph Rossiter intercepted a package at the Cincinnati network distribution center that was addressed to a “Mrs. Mavldin” at a home on Walton Avenue in Dayton, according to an application for a warrant filed in U.S. District Court.

Rossiter, an inspector with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Cincinnati field office, checked a law enforcement database that he said showed there was no one named Mavldin associated with the Walton Avenue home.

He also said the sender’s information did not match information in the database.

Rossiter summoned a K9 unit with the Dayton Police Department to conduct a “free air” sniff of the package at the postal facility.

The dog gave a positive alert, indicating the presence or odor of narcotics or other controlled substances, a search warrant application states.

After obtaining a search warrant, Rossiter opened the package and found nearly 2,700 grams of a substance that tested positive for methamphetamine that was in vacuum-sealed bags, court records show.

The package was repacked and delivered with fake drugs, a GPS tracking device and invisible fluorescent powder that glows under UV light.

A man who took the package off a porch where it was delivered was tracked, apprehended and charged with drug possession with intent to distribute drugs.

In fiscal year 2020, postal inspectors across the nation seized more than 120,000 pounds of illegal narcotics and confiscated more than $39 million in illegal proceeds, says an annual report by the Postal Inspection Service.

Inspectors that year also made 2,200 arrests for drug trafficking. The following fiscal year — 2021 — they made even more arrests: 2,323.

Postal inspectors have seized drugs in Dayton’s mail system that were concealed in toys and shipped with cosmetics.

Some packages were sent from cities in California to Dayton and vice versa.

Other packages were being shipped to addresses in other local communities including Springfield, Tipp City, Union and Bellbrook.

When local postal inspectors identify mail they believe is suspicious, they typically summon a drug-sniffing canine from the Dayton Police Department or the Montgomery County Sheriff’s office to inspect the packages and envelopes.

Since 2020, Dayton’s K9 units have been called to local postal facilities 70 times to conduct sniffs of packages suspected of containing contraband, according to data from the Dayton Police Department.

Police say all 70 sniffs led to positive alerts.

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s office says its K-9s have been called to assist with sniffs at postal facilities about 145 times since 2019.

Officials say the canines gave positive alerts in about 140 of those incidents.

Postal Inspectors often work with other federal, state and local law enforcement officials to share intelligence and conduct joint operations, such as task forces, to make arrests and seize illegal drug shipments in the mail, said Gealey, the postal inspector.

Gealey said specific investigative methods used by inspectors are sensitive and must remain confidential.

But he said the methods are effective in helping locate drug shipments of all kinds.

“Postal inspectors use their expertise not only to identify drug parcels, but also identify and find the sender and recipient,” he said. “Our purpose in these investigations is to protect the mail system from being used for criminal purposes, and, most importantly, provide a safe environment for postal employees and Postal Service customers.”

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