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Post Office Strikes Out in Ringers Investigation

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An investigation into claims that a post office softball team included ringers with forged government IDs has struck out, a federal postal inspector said this week.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service was unable to fully substantiate a mail carrier’s allegations that a team called the Wongs had issued doctored identification cards to qualify ringers, or outside players, for employee-only tournaments, spokesman Donald Obritsch said Thursday. He said publicity may have stymied the investigation.

Investigators verified that one postal service ID was issued to a softball player who earns a living by preparing new cars for sale. But the athlete told inspectors he had only used the ID once, to play with the Wongs at least two years ago in Las Vegas, and the card itself could not be found, Obritsch said.

Although ringers are not uncommon in amateur sports, rules about their use vary from tournament to tournament and league to league. What concerned postal inspectors, Obritsch said, was the alleged forging of a government document to make the Wongs’ ringers eligible for tournaments that were exclusively for post office employees.

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Had the charges proved true, culprits could have faced five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for forging a government document.

Obritsch said newspaper and television coverage may have alerted suspects to the investigation, causing them to destroy evidence.

“We feel it may have jeopardized this case, with the possible or probable destruction of the primary piece of evidence,” Obritsch said in a telephone interview from his Pasadena office.

“Even if we recovered the card, you just never know if we’d been able to determine who forged the card,” said Obritsch, explaining why the investigation was not more conclusive.

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Obritsch declined to specify the number of people interviewed or their identities. He said that apart from the one car detailer, investigators found no other corroboration of the claims.

The letter carrier who brought the charges, Jill Helms of Sunland, expressed surprise and outrage when told of Obritsch’s announcement Thursday.

“You are kidding! Are you kidding me? How could they do that?” said Helms. “I can’t believe that. That’s a bunch of baloney.”

The ringer story surfaced as part of Helms’ claim that her former supervisor in the Valencia post office--Wongs team member Charles Evans--began harassing her after she inadvertently discovered the alleged ringers during a casual conversation about softball. Helms also manages a successful Burbank softball team.

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“This has definitely given me something to think about,” said Helms, who has been on stress leave since October. “This is not right. It’s really wrong.”

Obritsch said postal inspectors also found no evidence of harassment, although the postal service will decide whether administrative charges are warranted.

Evans, Helms’ former supervisor, said he was not surprised by the postal inspectors’ conclusions. He also denied harassing Helms.

The first baseman said postal inspectors asked him to repeatedly write the name “John Smith,” the signature on a photocopy of the one forged ID card they were able to locate. “There’s no mistaking my signature and there was no comparison,” Evans said. “I was not worried, not one bit.”

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