By Chris Conrad
Police say they have identified 15 to 20 suspects in a mail-theft ring that allegedly struck about 800 Jackson County mailboxes, as investigators continue to assess the “havoc” created in victims’ finances.
Medford police financial detectives continue to sift through evidence in the case, which involves thousands of pieces of stolen mail.
The ring robbed some victims of several thousand dollars, Medford police Sgt. Brent Mak said.
“It’s astounding the amount of havoc this group has wreaked in so many peoples’ lives,” Mak said. “This case keeps growing and growing.”
So far, police have publicly identified five of the suspects, and two of them have been arrested on numerous felony charges.
Eduardo Navarro and Dallas Lee Tedford face federal charges of aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud.
A federal warrant has been issued for the arrest of their alleged co-conspirators — Kayla Ann Strange and Robert Powelson.
Mak said additional suspects will likely be charged under state statutes.
“The feds are looking at charging the ringleaders, so to speak,” Mak said. “But the rest will certainly face several felony charges.”
The group began preying on Jackson County residents last September and continued to steal mail, forge checks and obtain illegal debit and credit cards until March.
Police said the thieves traveled throughout the Medford area to steal mail from postal boxes and broke into cars and stole personal items such as credit cards, mail and tax documents.
“They were basically transients who couch-surfed and flopped in hotels,” Mak said. “They did make a lot of money from this. I’d say they stole tens of thousands of dollars over the year.”
The group reportedly used the victims’ information to open fraudulent accounts in various banks around Medford. They then would apply for fraudulent credit cards in the victims’ names.
One of the ways the thieves acquired money involved pre-paid debit cards, purchased from Walmart, called Bluebird cards.
The cards, a partnership between Walmart and American Express, are not tied to any personal bank account and can be uploaded with cash at any time.
One feature of the Bluebird cards that disturbs financial detectives is that cardholders can use a smartphone app to take a picture of a check and then upload the amount of money shown on the check to the card.
Mak said the suspects would steal checks from mailboxes, use Wite-Out to cover the amount and then write in a larger number. They would then take a picture of the check and use it to deposit the money online, Mak said.
“What happens here is security is sacrificed for convenience,” Mak said. “We had some people who had a stolen check clear four or five times for different amounts.”
The thieves also used less sophisticated techniques, including standard forgery, police said.
The suspects who face federal prosecution could receive sentences ranging from five to 30 years in prison, with mandatory minimum sentences of two years for aggravated identity theft convictions, according to federal authorities.
The state charges will be sorted out when additional suspects are arrested, Mak said.
“Anyone who handled a stolen check or card and received money illegally in this case will be prosecuted, whether it be state or federal,” Mak said.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.