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Only misdemeanor charges filed in mail theft case

KBAK/KBFX photo

Neighbors are upset when mail is stolen, and then they're also concerned when suspects get only misdemeanor charges. Local authorities say they file the strongest charges they can.

In the most recent case, the suspect is currently facing two misdemeanor charges. Bakersfield Police arrested Jeffrey Carroll, 35, on Tuesday. Officers say they found him with stolen mail, a "manufactured mail box key," forged check and illegal weapon.

As of Friday, court records show Carroll charged with a misdemeanor count of possessing an illegal weapon and a misdemeanor for "receiving stolen property."

"Mail theft by itself is a misdemeanor, that's the statutory punishment," Supervising Deputy District Attorney Barry Klein told Eyewitness News.

Klein says it takes more to show that the suspect is the one who took the mail, though he can't discuss the Carroll case specifically.

And, as for having an alleged manufactured mail key, "Chances are, it's going to be a misdemeanor," Klein says. "Burglary tools are a misdemeanor. If you catch them in the act of a burglary, that's something else."

Carroll was found in a house on Cripple Creek Avenue when officers did a probation search on another man. Carroll was identified as the person connected to the evidence found at that time.

The house is around the corner from a community mail box which neighbors say has been repeatedly left open and their mail taken. They say no pry marks were seen, so they think a master key of some kind had been used.

Bakersfield Police Sgt. Gary Carruesco couldn't say if mail from that specific box was found with Carroll, but he says mail from that neighborhood was recovered, as well as mail from the southwest, central, and northeast parts of town.

Carruesco says Carroll had been on their radar for a while, and because he'd been linked to similar cases, they asked for higher bail in the current case.

"That's just our attempt to try to keep him in jail," Carruesco told Eyewitness News on Wednesday.

Several other suspects have been arrested by Bakersfield Police for mail theft in the past months.

On Dec. 7, three suspects were picked up during a traffic stop on Chester Avenue. Officers say stolen mail was found, and also stolen checks, credit cards and counterfeit ID cards. Investigators also say two counterfeit postal keys were recovered.

Alphonso Castillo, Marion Berryhill, and Rosa Montoya were arrested in that case. Those suspects were charged with some felony counts.

Court records show they all pled no contest to some charges, and other counts were dismissed. Documents also show that Castillo was arrested again in mid-February on charges including unauthorized use of ID and forgery, but all those charges were dismissed.

All three suspects are set to be back in court in late March for sentencing in the case from December, according to court information.

In early December, Blake Reed was arrested on mail theft, unauthorized use of ID, and fraud involving an access card and forged check.

One victim of the mail-theft linked to Reed was told he'd been involved before in similar crimes, and a check of court records shows Reed was picked up again in late February. Those latest charges are listed as misdemeanors. Reed is set to be back in court next week.

Postal Service officials say mail theft is a federal crime, but Klein says not all cases will be handled that way.

"The standard taking mail from a mail box, they're probably not going to file on that person," Klein says. "They're going to refer it to the local jurisdiction."

U.S. Postal Inspector Jeff Fitch says his office does file federal charges in Bakersfield, but some cases are kept at the local level.

"We are doing federal investigations at this time in Bakersfield regarding mail theft," Fitch told Eyewitness News on Friday. He also says they appreciate working with local law enforcement on other cases.

Fitch says mail theft is a federal offense, and a felony. He stresses those convicted can get prison sentences up to 5 years, and face steep fines.

From the Kern County D.A.'s office, Barry Klein says they do see suspects commit mail theft over and over.

"We have a revolving door," Klein says. "I think it's frustrating for the community, I think it's frustrating for our office, I think it's frustrating for law enforcement."

Both Klein and the Postal Inspector urge residents to protect their mail and report any suspicious activity.

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