Residents Riled by Loss of Mail, Theft of Carts

Steep steps make it difficult to bring heavy mail carts into buildings, leading to this familiar sight on the side streets of Chelsea. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | A mail cart theft late last month — one of four this year — has longtime Chelsea residents concerned about the safety of their mail.

During the early afternoon on Tues., Jan. 23 on W. 19th St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves., a cart full of mail was stolen. The empty cart was later found in a parking garage on 15th St. near Fifth Ave.

Four carts have been stolen in the Chelsea area since the beginning of the year, Donna Harris, spokesperson for the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), said in an email to Chelsea Now. Harris declined to provide details about when and where the other three thefts took place, citing that it is an ongoing investigation.

The USPIS is the law enforcement arm of the postal service, and the cart and mail thefts fall under its purview. It is a federal law enforcement agency with arrest authority that enforces over 200 federal statutes, she said.

All of these crimes are currently under investigation, Harris said.

“We will find the individual(s) responsible for [these crimes] and bring them to justice for their crimes against our customers and the US mail,” she assured.

Upon hearing about the mail cart theft, residents, like Karen Bell, went to their local precinct and post office — the 13th Precinct and Old Chelsea Station — to report it and learn more. (The W. 19th St. theft falls into the 13th Precinct’s area of coverage, although most of West Chelsea is covered by the 10th Precinct.)

Bell has lived on W. 19th St. for almost 30 years, and she expressed frustration with the reporting process and the lack of information provided.

After hearing about the theft from the block’s regular mail carrier and one of her neighbors — who had a box of blank checks stolen that someone tried to unsuccessfully cash — Bell called the 13th Precinct to see if they were aware of what happened. (The resident whose checks were stolen declined to be interviewed for this article.)

“It was kind of a round robin conversation — I couldn’t tell him what he wanted me to tell him. I didn’t know if anything was stolen,” Bell said in a phone interview.

After she got “nowhere” with the precinct, she said she went twice to Old Chelsea Station, to try to find out more and why the community had not been informed about the theft. She said a supervisor handed her a sticky note with the number of the postal inspection service.

Bell said she wanted more information provided “and who to contact specifically so we don’t get the runaround. I think the biggest complaint I have is the frustration dealing with the post office.”

Another longtime resident of Bell’s  block, Kathryn Nocerino, went through a similar reporting process that Bell did: contacting the 13th Precinct and the Old Chelsea Station.

Nocerino said she filed a complaint with the USPIS, only to be told to contact the US Postal Service Consumer and Industry Contact Office. When she contacted that office, they told her it was a matter for the postal inspection service.

Bell took it upon herself to check out security cameras in the neighborhood, asking a building at 19th St. and Seventh Ave. and the fire department to check their footage.

Both residents pointed out that it is tax season.

“It is tax time — they’re getting their W2, 1099 and financial statements,” said Bell, noting that people might not have received bills as well. “Who knows what’s missing?”

Nocerino said, “Every time I walk around Chelsea and the Gramercy Park area, I see unattended mail carts.”

Longtime Chelsea resident Pamela Wolff said it is a struggle for the carriers to get their carts into buildings’ vestibules due to the fact many have several front steps.

“It’s a little tricky for these guys — it’s difficult to keep their eyes on their carts at all times,” Wolff said by phone.

Harris said that “Carriers receive training with regard to safeguarding the mail, and we will request [the United States Postal Service] reinforces these elements with carriers, specifically on protecting their carts.”

Wolff also went to the Old Chelsea Station to find out about more about the theft before attending the Jan. 30 Council of Chelsea Block Associations meeting, saying, “I wanted facts. What I did is to try to figure out is this an epidemic or a one-off. It’s been a little hard to get information from anywhere.”

Wolff did not get her questions answered at the Old Chelsea Station.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “Until we get better information, we can’t really help. We need to keep our eyes open.”

Requests for comment from Old Chelsea Station and the 13th Precinct went unanswered. An NYPD spokesperson referred questions to the USPIS, and said in an email, “There continues to be an ongoing coordinated effort of our patrol cops, investigators, and all of our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners.”

Speaker Corey Johnson (who, as a councilmember, represents Chelsea) said in an emailed statement that his office is in contact with the NYPD and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler. “Stealing mail is a serious federal crime and a grave violation of one’s personal information,” he said.

Shelby Garner, a spokesperson for Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, said she convened a meeting on Mon., Feb. 12 with the NYPD and the United States Postal Service about mail thefts that have been happening in her district. Residents have contacted her office about checks that have been stolen out of mailboxes, Garner said by phone.

Nocerino said the theft “leaves me with the uncomfortable feeling that mail is not safe in Chelsea.”

Harris noted that if readers need to report any crimes with a nexus to the US mail that are in progress, they should call 911 and then report it locally to postal inspectors at 212-330-2400. If anyone believes they have been a victim of mail theft, please report it at 877-876-2455.

Additional reporting by Tabia C. Robinson.

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