Two men arrested by Hialeah police have been charged in Miami federal court with stealing envelopes from mailboxes, including several that contained checks.
Juan Daniel Ramírez Castillo and Iván Eladio Montenegro Elena have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
The case is only the latest in a series of similar episodes in South Florida and other parts of the country. Thieves view mail as a target because of checks that some envelopes contain, mainly from Social Security or the Internal Revenue Service.
The case began at 2:30 a.m. March 22 when Hialeah police received a call on suspicious activity outside a post office, according to a criminal complaint in federal court filed by a U.S. Postal Inspector.
“Upon arriving at the location, the officer observed a dark-colored vehicle ... driving away at a high rate of speed with its lights off,” according to the criminal complaint.
Police stopped the vehicle and later searched it after its occupants were detained.
The driver was identified in court records as Juan Daniel Ramírez Castillo, and one of the passengers as Iván Eladio Montenegro Elena. A third person was in the vehicle, but he was not identified because he’s a minor.
The police officer also observed several envelopes inside the vehicle, as well as several checks bearing the names of people who were not in the car.
Police also found a roll of duct tape, a smaller roll of electrical tape, a piece of rope with a padlock tied at the end of it. The padlock had duct tape around it, with the adhesive side facing out, according to the criminal complaint.
“This type of device is normally used to ‘fish’ mail out of mail collection boxes,” according to the criminal complaint. “Fishing is a practice of using various devices, such as string and tape or glue, to unlawfully access, remove and steal mail that has been placed in blue USPS collection boxes.”
The mail is then rifled, and checks or cash in the mail are stolen.
After Hialeah police detained the men and the minor, they summoned a federal mail inspector.
He and other inspectors transported the group to their office for questioning.
“Ramírez admitted to picking up in his car Montenegro and the minor for the sole purpose of fishing mail,” the complaint said. “Ramírez stated that the three of them drove to at least seven mailboxes throughout the course of the night, but were only successful in retrieving mail from three mailboxes, including the mailbox where he was spotted by the police officer.”
According to the complaint, Ramírez also said that the plan was to sell the checks and then split the money among the three of them.
Each of the three had a specific task assigned to him, according to the criminal complaint.
Ramírez drove the car, the minor’s “job was to actually fish the mail out of the mailboxes with the fishing device found in the car, and Montenegro’s role was to open the retrieved mail to find checks,” according to the complaint.
The lawyer for Ramírez declined to comment, and Montenegro’s attorney could not be located for comment.