NEW YORK (AP) — Three postal workers played the Grinch and stole laptop computers, a toy train, boots and other gifts destined for underprivileged children by rigging the Operation Santa program where they worked, authorities said.
In a part of Manhattan where the movie "Miracle on 34th Street" was inspired, the postal workers helped themselves to headphones, clothing and other goods, authorities said in court papers unsealed Wednesday as all three were arrested.
Cashing in on the generosity of Secret Santas, the trio pulled off a lucrative plot during the 2013 holiday season as they worked in the Operation Santa headquarters in the huge James A. Farley Post Office, across from Madison Square Garden, court papers said.
Terry Jackson, a postal worker until January 2014, was identified as the ringleader by a prosecutor during a brief appearance before a magistrate judge in federal court.
The others, current postal workers, were identified as Mahogany Strickland and Nickyeves Saintalbord. Lawyers for all three declined comment as their clients were released, two of them on $50,000 bail.
Federal charges included conspiracy and mail fraud.
In the complaint, U.S. Postal Service agent Jamie Trelles said the three postal workers carried out their scheme between November 2013 and January 2014.
The complaint said they wrote fake letters to fraudulently obtain electronics, clothing and other items and even replaced underprivileged kids' addresses with their own addresses for gifts to be delivered.
Secret Santas ultimately provided gifts for fewer than half of the 7,000 letters processed by postal employees from among more than 300,000 letters written to Santa by children across the country hoping to receive gifts for the holidays, the court papers said.
Trelles wrote that Jackson confessed during a February interview that he wrote four to five letters pretending to be a child and had two other participants in the scheme make 20 copies of each letter.
As a result, the agent said, Jackson received a printer, two laptop computers, two tablet computers, clothing, gift cards and more.
Trelles said Jackson also confessed that he entered the database used to store children's addresses and placed his address on the shipping line for Operation Santa packages about 50 times, causing packages intended for children to be shipped to him.
Trelles said Strickland told her during an interview that her adult family members wrote multiple letters, resulting in her family receiving about two of each requested gift, including a tablet computer, a laptop, headphones, clothing and boots.
The agent said Saintalbord confessed that he wrote four letters pretending to be a child, making five copies of each letter and giving them to a clerk assigned to hand out letters to customers. As a result, Trelles said, Saintalbord received numerous gifts, including headphones and boots.
The criminal complaint noted that two Operation Santa packages addressed to Strickland's residence were returned in January 2014 to the post office after unsuccessful delivery. The packages, opened after a judicially authorized warrant was obtained, contained clothing, a toy train and boots.