A lengthy investigation into a major mail theft operation led to the arrest of seven South Bay suspects in recent months, some of whom are connected with the looting of entire mailbox banks in apartment complexes in Mountain View.
The investigation stems from a series of burglaries last year, where thieves struck four apartment complexes -- two on El Camino Real, one on San Antonio Road and another on Castro Street -- in the early morning hours, according to a Monday statement by the Mountain View Police Department. The suspects reportedly used counterfeit U.S. Postal Service "master keys" in order to open locked mailbox banks and steal the contents, stuffing it into empty duffel bags.
When asked whether the string of mail thefts were part of a coordinated effort, police spokeswoman Katie Nelson said the suspects knew one another, and called the people who stole the mail "prolific" thieves.
Arrests in connection to the mail thefts took place over the course of several months, and were not made exclusively by the Mountain View Police Department. On Oct. 27, Santa Cruz County sheriff's deputies arrested a 25-year-old San Jose woman following a vehicle pursuit, and found her in possession of mail from a complex on the 800 block of W. El Camino Real in Mountain View, along with a counterfeit master key.
The next arrest came more than two months later on New Year's Eve, when a 39-year-old San Jose woman was arrested by Mountain View police for trying to buy gift cards with a stolen credit card at the CVS near the San Antonio Shopping Center. She was accompanied by a San Jose man, also 39, and both were allegedly in possession of more than 100 pieces of stolen mail from a complex at the 500 block of San Antonio Road. The pair was found in possession of over half a pound of methamphetamine and several counterfeit driver's licenses, police said.
Three days later, a 31-year-old Milpitas man was found skulking around an underground parking garage on the 2200 block of Showers Drive peeking into parked vehicles. Officers detained the man, and said he had mail from the same San Antonio apartment complex.
The latest arrests in the investigation came on Saturday, Jan. 12, when officers spotted a gold Mercedes that matched the description of a vehicle connected to a mail theft at an apartment complex on the 1600 block of W. El Camino Real. Officers pulled over the 41-year-old San Jose suspect, and found she had counterfeit mailbox keys, "shaved" keys and and a significant amount of stolen mail and credit cards.
The United States Postal Inspection Service, the postal service's law enforcement division, has filed multiple charges against several of the arrested suspects, police said. Postal Inspector Jeff Fitch told the Voice that information on specific charges and the division's involvement in the case is not being released because the investigation is ongoing. More broadly, Fitch said California has seen a statewide increase in mail thefts over the last several years.
During the Saturday arrest, police ended up making two incidental arrests. The first came after officers noticed the 41-year-old suspect was receiving multiple calls on her phone from a 34-year-old San Jose man police that police recognized as a wanted suspect connected to multiple residential burglaries, police said. Officers set up a perimeter in the area and later found the man walking on a footpath near Mariposa Avenue and detained him.
Nelson said those two suspects are related to the larger mail theft case, but did not provide further details explaining the connection.
While apprehending the residential burglary suspect, police noticed a "suspicious" vehicle, a black Chevrolet Tahoe, easing past on El Camino Real. Officers pulled the driver over and found she was suspected of vehicle theft and had a felony warrant out for her arrest. She was arrested, and a search of her car turned up methamphetamine, methamphetamine pipes and "several" items indicating she may have committed identity theft, police said.
Nelson said the department is not disclosing certain details in the active investigation, including how the suspects got a hold of counterfeit postal service master keys and the specific apartment complexes that were targeted. The specific dates of the mail thefts were also not immediately available.
Police are still searching for additional mail theft suspects, and are urging residents to pick up their mail daily and be vigilant about suspicious people loitering near mailboxes. Anyone who believes mail has been stolen can report it to police by calling the department's main number, 650-903-6344.
Residents can also report stolen mail to the Postal Inspection Service's 24-hour hotline at 1-877-876-2455.