Montrose-area residents whose mail was compromised last month may have to wait for a while before it is returned to them.
Hundreds of pieces of mail recovered by the Montrose County Sheriff’s Office are now in the custody of U.S. postal inspectors in Denver, who are processing it as evidence, determining who the victims are and also determining whether there is any evidence of additional fraud.
“It’s necessary for us to keep that recovered mail, as it is important evidence relative to our ongoing investigation,” said Pam Durkee, a postal inspector and spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Inspectors Office.
“Depending on what we see with this recovered mail, we are going to assess whether the criminal activity would meet the threshold for federal prosecution. We have not determined that at this time because we’ve not gone through all the mail.”
There is no specific threshold that would automatically trigger federal prosecution, she said. “Every case is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”
Mariah Earle and Cassandra Mazza-Bautista are accused of stealing the mail. They have been charged locally with misdemeanor theft.
Reports of missing mail began coming into local law enforcement agencies last month, leading authorities to speculate that someone was stealing letters, cards and parcels for gift cards and cash they might have contained, as well as financial transaction devices, such as credit cards.
Deputies found a large mail dump Dec. 17, which contained items that had been tampered with, possibly to divest the envelopes and containers of valuables. A few days later, a tip furnished investigators with a description of a possible suspect vehicle and off-duty Deputy Chance Davidson spotted the car near mailboxes.
He was able to tail the vehicle and call in its plates, which led investigators to a residence on Joe Pye Drive, as well as to Earle and Mazza-Bautista.
Deputies reported finding a trunk load of mail in the car, along with mail and the contents of parcels in the home.
Earle and Mazza-Bautista since have been charged with theft, according to the Montrose Combined Courts.
Mazza-Bautista, who is free on bond, was due in court today, while Earle is set to appear Jan. 27. She remained in custody Wednesday, in lieu of a $5,000 bond, according to court records.
The mail seized as evidence eventually will be returned to the intended recipients, Durkee said.
“It’s important that residents understand that we need to keep the recovered mail until the investigation has come to fruition,” she said. “Fruition” means all the way through prosecution and appeals that could be filed if there are convictions, she added.
“They’ve only been arrested. The prosecution needs to play out,” Durkee said. “ ... It’s really necessary that we keep all the evidence.”