Probation for woman who used postal service master keys to burglarize residential mailrooms

Kalea Blanke (Chicago Police Department)

CHICAGO — A woman accused of using U.S. Postal Service master keys to commit eight mailroom burglaries at apartment and condo buildings has been sentenced to probation.

Kalea Blanke, 33, pleaded guilty to six counts of burglary, and prosecutors dropped the other two cases, according to court records. Judge Michele Gemskie put her on probation for two years with orders to participate in an “intensive drug program.” Blanke must also submit to random drug testing and provide a DNA sample for indexing by law enforcement.

For more than a year, Blanke used mail carrier master keys to access mailboxes across the city, prosecutors said. They ultimately charged her with eight cases stemming from burglaries in:

  • the 4000 block of North Damen in North Center on May 17, 2022 
  • the 4700 block of North Racine in Uptown on November 12, 2022
  • the 600 block of West Drummond in Lincoln Park on January 24, 2023
  • the 4100 block of North Sheridan in Uptown on March 9, 2023
  • the 2600 block of North Clybourn in Lincoln Park on March 29, 2023.
  • the 800 block of South Wells in the Loop on June 22, 2023
  • the 1600 block of West Division in Wicker Park on March 9, 2023, and again on June 11, 2023

Chicago police arrested her in a South Side garage last August and said they found a postal service master key, also known as an “arrow key,” lying in plain sight. When they searched her, police found five wrenches “filed into what appears to be various stages of arrow keys,” a CPD report said.

Mail theft surge

Mail theft by crews using stolen postal service master keys has become so widespread that the U.S. Postal Service has advised people not to put mail into its blue mailboxes after the last collection time.

Mail thieves might occasionally score a valuable package or an envelope containing a birthday gift card from someone’s grandma. However, experts say the real value comes from identity theft and check fraud mills, which use information from stolen mail to steal people’s identities and checks.

Armed men have frequently robbed mail carriers of their “arrow keys” in Chicago. Some keys are stolen from the postal service in less violent ways. Counterfeit keys have also popped up.

Highly organized identity theft and fraud organizations use stolen postal service master keys, called “arrow keys,” to steal large volumes of mail from public mailboxes and residential building mailrooms.

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