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U.S. Checks Stolen From Mail Trucks : Crime: Inspectors say 15 such burglaries have been reported in the San Fernando Valley since September. They believe a two-man team is responsible.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A two-man team is responsible for a string of postal truck burglaries in the San Fernando Valley in which dozens of government checks have been stolen, making victims of residents who are dependent on Social Security, welfare and other payments, according to postal inspectors.

The men follow mail carriers and break into the trucks after the carriers leave to walk their routes, Donald Obritsch, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said.

Obritsch said there have been 15 burglaries since September, with the first in Woodland Hills and the others spreading east to Glendale. The most recent burglary occurred Monday in Glendale.

Obritsch said nearly all the burglaries have occurred on days when mail carriers delivered government checks, such as Social Security, unemployment and welfare payments.

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“Any state or federal check is what they are after,” Obritsch said. “Those are the easiest checks to cash.”

The value of the losses is not known, but Obritsch said dozens of checks totaling thousands of dollars have been stolen and fraudulently cashed. He said the losers are the check-cashing companies and small stores that accept the checks and the rightful recipients of the checks, who must wait up to six months for replacement--a long period for people dependent on government assistance.

Obritsch said the men quickly break into the untended trucks and snatch trays of letters. They then flee, quickly look through the letters for government mail and sometimes credit card deliveries and dump the rest of the mail nearby.

Although more than 4,000 letters have initially been taken in the burglaries, most were found later and delivered.

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Inspectors believe the same two men are involved in the burglaries because of the method used and descriptions provided by witnesses.

“They are fairly blatant because these are done during the day in some high visibility areas,” Obritsch said.

The Postal Service has offered a $1,000 reward in each of the burglaries.

The rash of break-ins has also pushed up thefts from mail vehicles in the Los Angeles area, Obritsch said. There were 86 such thefts in the fiscal year ending Oct. 1, he said. Since then, there have already been 35 break-ins, including the 15 Valley cases.

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“We are well above last year’s rate,” Obritsch said.


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