Eight U.S. Postal Service employees at a mail processing center in Bethpage were arraigned Wednesday on federal charges of stealing illegal shipments of marijuana and conspiring to deal the drugs, officials said.
The suspects were arrested Tuesday night and charged with theft of mail and conspiracy to distribute and possession with the intent to distribute more than 129 pounds of marijuana, with an estimated street value of between $100,000 and $930,000, taken during a six-month period.
Investigators said the marijuana -- packaged in more than 263 large parcels -- had been stolen from the processing center beginning in May, and "there was no corresponding increase in customers reporting such parcels missing or stolen," which is typical with packages containing illegal drugs, according to court records.
"The evidence is rather overwhelming," assistant U. S. attorney Charles Rose said at the arraignment at federal court in Central Islip. "The defendants are public employees who violated the public trust. It's a very serious matter."
Arrested were Kempleton Nash Jr., 29, of Cambria Heights, Queens; Eugene Williams, 37, of Brentwood; Timothy Marshall, 28, of Far Rockaway, Queens; Jerrod Rollerson, 25, of Hempstead; Tanicha Grenald-Allen, 36, of Brooklyn; Sherwin Parkes, 36, of Brooklyn; Lloyd Johnson, 34, of St. Albans, Queens; and Jose Hurtado, 43, of North Bellmore.
Several of their lawyers declined to comment outside the courtroom, while several others could not be reached for comment following the arraignment.
All but Rollerson were expected to be released last night on surety bonds of $100,000. Rollerson's bond is expected to be addressed at a hearing in federal court Thursday.
The arrests followed a joint investigation of illegal drugs being sent through the mail conducted by the Postal Service Office of the Inspector General, the Drug Enforcement Administration's Long Island District Office Task Force, which includes agents from the Nassau County and Suffolk County district attorney's offices, the Suffolk County sheriff, the Hempstead Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Officials said that the eight employees arrested all worked at the Logistical and Distribution Priority Mail Processing Center in Bethpage.
"In this case, rather than alerting law enforcement agents to the presence of suspicious packages, the defendants allegedly stole the parcels from the processing line and placed them in a corridor outside" the main processing area -- a corridor accessed by a fire exit door whose alarm had been disabled, Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, said in a written statement.
The suspects then retrieved the parcels from the corridor, Lynch said, and carried them through the lobby of an adjacent business park.
In some cases, Lynch said, agents found the defendants had attached new shipping labels to the parcels, redirecting their delivery to alternate addresses. In those cases, she said, the relabeled parcels were inserted back into line for delivery to a new destination, where they were presumably going to be distributed by the suspects or their associates, officials said. Authorities said that between September and November investigators obtained warrants for 12 relabeled parcels, seizing about 129 pounds of marijuana.
Priority-mail parcels "have become a method of choice for drug dealers for the covert transportation and distribution of controlled substances, including marijuana," according to the criminal complaint filed in the case. Such parcels often originate from the West Coast.