Erin Peterson raided mailboxes in Bakersfield to feed her crystal methamphetamine addiction for about five months until she was caught in December 2017.
Four-hundred-twenty-eight pieces of stolen mail, 31 stolen credit and debit cards, more than 100 personal and business checks, and a key used to access community mailboxes were recovered by police — along with miscellaneous drug paraphernalia, 149 grams of crystal methamphetamine, and $1,400 in cash.
Peterson later pleaded guilty to possession of stolen mail in federal court, among other charges, and will spend seven-and-a-half years in federal prison.
Peterson preyed on victims in Kern County, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said Monday afternoon during a press conference.
District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer pledged to hold mail thieves like Peterson accountable locally.
"I know what a problem this is in our community," Zimmer said Monday, adding that she herself has been a victim of mail theft.
While figures on the number of mail thefts and arrests were not readily available, Scott said Bakersfield has seen a great number of mail thefts over the years.
Mail theft is a type of crime that involves stealing checks, cash, credit and debit cards and delivered items from mailboxes and P.O. boxes.
It is a means employed by con-artists to steal checks and other items of value, and by every day criminals hoping to get checks, cash, or delivered items, according to the City of Bakersfield.
Scott and Zimmer stood among local and national authorities, including Bakersfield Police Chief Lyle Martin and U.S. Postal Inspection Service Special Agent in Charge Rafael Nunez, all of whom are working together to prioritize mail theft.
The focus is not only on arresting and prosecuting mail thieves, Martin said, but it's also about ensuring community and victim safety.
"This is not a victimless crime," Martin said. "Those who are most vulnerable are seniors."
Martin urged the public to report any incidences of mail theft to law enforcement, as BPD and KCSO take these reports seriously — and they intend to hold offenders to the fullest extent of the law.
At a press conference in 2016, Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, called mail theft an "epidemic" and "unacceptable" after a string of mail thefts occurred in Bakersfield. The problem has not subsided since then, Scott said, but local and national partners are working together to address issues of mail theft in Bakersfield.
"We, the feds, do not do this alone," Scott said. "We do it collaboratively with our partners — the sheriff's office, the police department, the DA's office — to try and solve these crimes and hold people accountable for what they do and victimizing people in this county."