CHICAGO — A mail thief busted in Rogers Park this week was found standing about 15 feet away from a U.S. Postal Service master key that had been taken from a mail carrier in an aggravated robbery, according to a Chicago police report.
Officers responding to a burglary in progress in the 6700 block of North Lakewood around 1 p.m. Wednesday saw a suspicious man walking out of an apartment complex, the report said.
He was wearing a City of Chicago baseball hat and an orange and yellow safety vest, but he didn’t have municipal credentials, according to CPD. The man ran when the cops got out of their car, but they arrested him nearby.
The officers allegedly found bulk mail inside his canvas bag, all addressed to different people. They found the postal service master key lying nearby and recovered a blade tool that could be used to break into buildings and vehicles, the arrest report said.
U.S. Postal Inspectors determined that the master key, also known as an “arrow key,” was taken by robbers who targeted a mail carrier, according to the report.
Prosecutors charged Michael Valentine, 37, with burglary and possession of burglary tools. Judge Charles Beach released him on electronic monitoring.
The report said an investigation into the robbery is ongoing but did not say when or where it occurred.
Widespread mail theft
Organized mail theft has become part of the “new hustle in urban America,” a law enforcement source told CWBChicago in January.
One arm of the operation is responsible for stealing U.S. Postal Service master keys from mail carriers, often at gunpoint. Those keys are passed on to “joggers,” who use them to open banks of mailboxes in residential buildings and steal the contents. The stolen mail is passed on to another arm of the organization specializing in financial crimes like identity theft and check washing.
Check fraud reports are up 104% since 2021 Illinois, with mail theft being one of the contributing factors.
Since 2020, the U.S. Postal Service’s police force has been limited to protecting the agency’s physical assets rather than going on patrol to help protect the system as a whole and mail carriers in particular.
The change was a direct order from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in 2020. Courts have upheld DeJoy’s authority to limit the police force mission.
Illinois’ senior senator, Dick Durbin, is introducing legislation that he hopes will put the postal police back on the street.