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Post Office Takes a Licking in Stamp-Buying Scam

A clean-cut guy walks into San Diego’s main post office on Midway Drive.

Polite as you please, he says he just opened a mail-order business and wants to buy $18,900 worth of stamps. He shows identification and pays with a check.

Later, he returns and asks to buy even more stamps with a check. Eyebrows are raised, and the guy disappears.

In the following weeks, a guy with the same description, same name and same M.O. goes on a stamp-buying spree across the country: Nashville ($18,900), St. Louis ($18,900), San Antonio ($18,900) and Austin ($13,464).

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You guessed it: All five checks bounce. Wanted posters go up for Robert Dean Cheniae, 30, lately of Las Vegas.

Then Cheniae allegedly tries to sell back $15,000 worth of stamps to a post office in San Jose. He is arrested and shipped to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego.

We The People, a San Diego watchdog group that runs a hot line for governmental horror stories, says the apparent ease of the check caper reveals “outrageous” sloppiness at the post office.

Co-founder Tony Bochene asks: What private business would accept a large check from a stranger without calling the bank for verification? He plans to ask the postmaster for a meeting.

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Postal officials say check rules have been tightened and clerks have been warned to be more suspicious.

All checks for more than $1,000 must now be verified with the bank. A San Diego postal supervisor was transferred to a less desirable job for letting the $18,900 whopper slip through.

Postal inspectors say they’ve seen bad checks before but never this large. They’re trying to figure out what happened to the stamps, whether a black market exists for hot stamps.

Federal prosecutors in three jurisdictions are discussing whether the cases should be combined. A court hearing set for last week was delayed until after Christmas.

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Cheniae remains in MCC, unable to make $100,000 bail. Bail bondsmen don’t take stamps as collateral.

A House in Your Future?

Signs of the times.

* With the real estate market in a slump, street-smart agents are finding novel ways to attract prospective clients.

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Mary Alesi, an agent with Century 21 in El Cajon, is offering free palm reading. She’s dabbled in palms for 15 years:

“People used to want to know about their sex lives. Now all they ask about is money.”

* Spotted in downtown San Diego: A BMW with a car phone. And a Rolodex bolted to the dashboard.

* Headline in (North County) Beach News: Eating Tuna Without Guilt.

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Yes, but not without mayonnaise.

* Recycler, heal thyself.

Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa mailed out a press release announcing its drive to recycle paper.

But it contained an error, so corrections were faxed out. One newspaper office alone received three faxes.

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Note: Fax paper is not recyclable.

* Golf equipment manufacturers, including Taylor Made of Carlsbad, are sending free equipment to military personnel in Saudi Arabia.

Plenty of sand wedges, presumably.

Looking for a Seat--any Seat

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Political stuff.

* Rumor: Jeff Marston, just defeated for state Assembly, may move into the 5th District and run as a replacement candidate in the recall election of San Diego City Councilwoman Linda Bernhardt.

* Police Chief Bob Burgreen, explaining why you can’t be 100% sure that Operation Red Rag snared the real leaders of the local drug trade:

“It’s not a hierarchy. It’s not structured like the City Council.”

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* Law of Unintended Effects.

Councilman Bob Filner is trying to line up votes to edge out Ron Roberts to become deputy mayor.

If he succeeds, look for Mayor Maureen O’Connor to take fewer out-of-town trips next year, lest Filner be left in charge of council meetings.


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