A group of 11 people were indicted on Tuesday on suspicion of stealing a master key to the city’s mailboxes and then using it to steal checks and money orders worth tens of thousands of dollars.
On Dec. 8, 2012, a mail truck was robbed not only of mail but also an arrow key, which is the master key to unlock mailboxes. Federal authorities now allege that a group of thieves made copies of this master key and used it to rob mailboxes over a nearly four-year period.
Mail containing checks and money orders was stolen from blue collection boxes, residential mailboxes, mail rooms and post offices throughout Wichita. The group then forged signatures, made counterfeit checks and substituted their own names in the place of the original payees, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Members of the group are accused of cashing about 30 checks, most worth between $1,000 and $3,000, from various churches, businesses and individuals across the Wichita area. Among those whose money was stolen was Eastminster Presbyterian Church; Woodframe Construction Inc.; Vess Oil Corp.; HOC Industries; Peterson, Peterson & Goss, L.C.; Peach One, LLC; Great Bend Custard Realty, LLC; and Roberts Resources Inc.
The charges follow indictments against 13 others in a similar identity theft ring last summer that left some in the community wondering whether they had been victims. In that case, there is no record of a master mail key being used.
The 11 individuals accused range in age from 25 to 37.
Those indicted are Brandon L. Amend, 30, Wichita; Bettye L. Amend, 26, Wichita; Cory D. Blanchard, 33, hometown unknown; Ashley M. Campbell, 30, Valley Center; Jason A. Farner, 33, Leavenworth; Keith J. Gipson, 30, Wichita; Krista A. Goodwin, 27, Wichita; Jason L. West, 31, Wichita; Cole P. Kelly, 32, Wichita; Shalan D. Hiatt, 37, hometown unknown; and Jera L. Hammond, 25, Wichita.
Not every individual was charged with every crime, but each of the 11 were charged at least once.
Charges and possible penalties
Receipt of stolen mail: Up to five years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 on each count.
Theft of mail: Up to 10 years and a fine up to $250,000 on each count.
Bank fraud: Up to 30 years and a fine up to $1 million on each count.
Aggravated identity theft: A mandatory two years (consecutive) and a fine up to $250,000 on each count.
Unlawful possession of a firearm by a user of controlled substances: Up to 10 years and a fine up to $250,000.