A postal inspector recently used a simple device to catch three men suspected of stealing checks from mailboxes in Pelham and New Rochelle.
The device, a key trap, led to a federal grand jury indictment Nov. 26 against three Bronx men, Jonathan Ranfeil Jimenez, Martin DeJesus Reyes Maria and Mayobanex Reyes, on charges they stole more than $61,000 in a check washing scheme.
The men are accused of mail theft, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and, for Jimenez and Maria, use of a stolen post office key.
In September 2018, postal inspector Michael Memoli installed a hidden camera near a mailbox outside the Pelham post office.
A few weeks later, two men were photographed using a postal key to get into the mailbox, and one could be seen carrying an Adidas duffel bag.
Memoli installed a key trap, a device that makes a key get stuck in a lock and requires special tools to remove.
The trap worked. On Oct. 1, 2018, an off-duty Pelham police officer called for back-up when he saw two men trying to open the mailbox. Officers chased and caught the men and recovered an Adidas duffel bag with about 300 pieces of mail.
Memoli retrieved the trapped key and traced the serial number to a key that had been missing from the New Rochelle post office.
He also reviewed surveillance footage from mailboxes in New Rochelle, taken shortly before the two men were arrested in Pelham. The images show two men stealing mail and placing it in an Adidas duffel bag.
Police identified the suspects as Jimenez and Maria.
Using traditional investigative tools –police reports, postal records, bank records, surveillance footage, photographs and interviews – the inspector identified eight people who had mailed checks in Pelham, New Rochelle and Staten Island that ended up in strangers’ bank accounts.
The stolen checks appeared to have been “washed,” whereby checks were soaked in solvent to remove the ink and then filled in with new payee names and amounts. Then the checks were deposited into bank accounts, using ATM cards and personal identification numbers of other people.
A New Rochelle woman, for instance, used a mailbox on Main Street to mail a check from her J.P. Morgan Chase bank account. On Sept. 7, 2018, Jimenez, Maria and Reyes were allegedly at a Bank of America ATM machine on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. One of them, according to the criminal complaint, deposited the woman’s check into an account of an individual who is not named in the complaint. The check had been altered, making the stranger the payee and the amount $8,700.
Other stolen checks were allegedly deposited by the three suspects in bank accounts of several strangers, using ATM machines on Lenox Avenue and Broadway in Manhattan.