Since the arrest and conviction of Ryan Cortez of Des Allemands, the lingering question has been: How did he pull off “one of the largest internal postal thefts” in the system’s history?
A report by the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) addresses the question, as well as outlines how Cortez’s case has prompted recommendations on system changes to avoid repeating it.
“Postage stamps, records manipulation and a clandestine call to report suspicions” exposed Cortez stealing more than $630,000 in stamps and pocketed the cash when he sold them on eBay to support his gambling habit, according to the OIG’s account of the case.
“It started with a call to our hotline to report suspicious transactions involving stolen stamps from a Louisiana postal station,” says the OIG report. An initial investigation confirmed Cortez had access to stamp inventory and exploited a loophole in how the system accounts for seasonal stamps.
“We discovered the unit’s [post office] stock reserve was abnormally large for an operation of its size,” according to OIG.
Cortez manipulated the post office computer to fraudulently represent they were Christmas stamps, which he knew were not monitored and avoided detection, states the report. As the former manager of customer service operations at the North Kenner Post Office, he knew the postal rules and that taking Christmas stamps would not trigger red flags or internal control alerts.
From January 2017 to September 2018, Cortez accepted numerous stamp shipments without the required witness to confirm the contents. He got away with it by getting a supervisor’s password that allowed him to falsify shipments in the post office computer. In nearly the same time, stamp orders rose from $50,000 to more than $630,000.
By the time the anonymous call came about the thefts, Cortez had taken and sold $630,000 in stamps. EBay and Paypal both notified OIG about significant quantities of U.S. Postal stamps being sold by Cortez.
Confronted by OIG agents, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 months in prison and to pay $856,801.41 in restitution.
Cortez’s case prompted an OIG audit for all 35,000 post offices in the nation.
OIG agents identified another $4.2 million in questionable stamp levels at other post offices, which is being investigated.
David Wilsey, assistant special agent in charge and OIG public information officer, said, “The U.S. Postal Service employs more than 625,000 employees and is the largest civilian federal workforce in the country. This type of behavior within the Postal Service is not tolerated and the overwhelming majority of Postal Service employees, which serve the public, are honest, hardworking, and trustworthy individuals who would never consider engaging in any type of criminal behavior.”
“We found the controls were not always adequate or used effectively,” the report states. “Management did not thoroughly monitor and manage units [post offices] with excess or excludable stamp stock (stamps greater than the post office’s authorized limit and excludable means Christmas stamps).”
According to OIG, management was not reviewing orders that exceeded the limits as required.
“USPS agreed with our recommendations focused on tightening existing controls and instituting new ones, such as requiring approval for stamp stock orders that exceed authorized dollar and number limits and requiring witnesses to verify stock shipments,” according to OIG.
The OIG Hotline is at www.uspsoig.gov/hotline.