A postal worker out of New Jersey who stole dozens of federal refund checks is facing a sizable jail time sentence. Willingboro resident Earl Champagne was found guilty of playing a role in an elaborate identity theft plot. The scheming mailman intercepted over 70 refund checks, stuffing them into his mailbag and turning them over to his co-conspirators.
Reports The Associated Press on April 29: “A former postal worker has pleaded guilty to stealing income tax refund checks worth more than $400,000 from people along his New Jersey mail route. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman says Willingboro resident Earl Champagne pleaded guilty Friday to theft of U.S. mail and theft of government money.”
As it turns out, the refund checks were not even legitimate. According to court records, individuals approached Champagne in 2014 and gave him a list of Spanish names. When the postal worker came across the names and saw that it was a federal issued refund check, he stole them. The checks represented money paid out by the IRS for fraudulent returns.
According to Forbes, identity thieves pilfered Social Security numbers belonging to residents of Puerto Rico – a prime target for individuals involved in identity theft schemes. Puerto Ricans are assigned Social Security numbers as U.S. citizens, but oftentimes do not have to report income to the IRS under U.S. Commonwealth tax laws. Fraudsters often steal valid numbers, and the victims have no idea their information is being used to generate ill-gotten refunds.
For his role, the New Jersey postal worker was paid a measly $50 bucks per check that he intercepted. Champagne’s lawyer, Michael Riley, called him a “family man” who has worked hard as a civil servant for many years.
Champagne of course was fired for his role in the identity theft scheme, and after working for the postal service for nearly two decades, faces up to 15 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine – for each of the 72 charges. He will be sentenced on August 3.