(Reuters) - Four people in Rhode Island, including two post office employees, have been charged with stealing $1.6 million worth of checks from the U.S. government, according to federal prosecutors.
The U.S. Attorney's office in Providence said late Tuesday that it cracked a ring that stole benefit payments to military veterans and other federal checks from a mail-sorting facility in Providence, then deposited the money into fraudulent bank accounts.
The four people were arraigned in federal court in Providence, according to court papers unsealed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The arrests grew out of an inquiry that began in September when U.S. Postal Service investigators and other law enforcement began examining reports of an unusually large number of checks from the U.S. Treasury Department disappearing after being sent through Providence.
"Mail theft is always a crime, but when it is perpetrated by Postal Service employees and it impacts our veterans and our most vulnerable customers who depend on these checks, it is beyond disgraceful," Rafael Medina, a postal investigator, said in a statement.
The USPS employees charged were Joan Manuel Mustafa, 36, and Erick Vera Garzon, 35, both of whom had worked nights at the Providence facility. Brenda Canuelas, 39, and Secundino Velazquez Tirado, 45, were also charged.
The four defendants could not be immediately reached for comment.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Susan Heavey)