USPS and Teaneck post office are costing families millions.
(Courtesy of Office of Cong. Josh Gottheimer) On November 29, with the start of the holiday gift giving season, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) spoke outside the Teaneck post office on Palisades Avenue to demand action and answers from the United States Postal Service (USPS) after years of stolen checks and mail fraud that have cost North Jersey families millions of dollars and trust in their local post office.
Beginning in 2020, at the Palisades Avenue Teaneck post office, there were reportedly hundreds of stolen checks and countless incidents of mail fraud. Many of the checks residents mailed were altered, including the recipient’s name and the amount of the check. This is a criminal act called check washing.
According to an audit by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the USPS in 2021, mail theft complaints increased by 161% from March 2020 to February 2021.
In many cases of mail fraud and theft, families have not gotten their money back. These post office issues make life incredibly difficult for hard-pressed families and seniors living on fixed incomes.
During the holiday season last year, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, USPS processed 13.2 billion letters, cards, flats and packages for delivery. That doesn’t include the billions of Social Security checks, medicine, veterans benefits, bills, cards and packages sent all of the other months of the year.
Despite continued reports of stolen checks and missing mail, the OIG has not completed their investigation in Teaneck and has shared no substantive information. OIG first told Gottheimer that they would have a resolution on these cases in July. It was then delayed to August, then to October, then to the end of November, and now as of last week, OIG stated that their investigation will take several more months.
Gottheimer was joined by Teaneck Councilman Michael Pagan and Teaneck resident Jeremy Lentz, who were both victims of mail fraud and check washing. Pagan had one check cashed by someone other than the intended recipient, and another check intended as a donation to the New Jersey Police Honor Legion washed from $100 to $7,000 and cashed to a complete stranger.
Lentz had a check stolen and altered from $100 to $6,000. After the thief unsuccessfully tried to cash the check, they changed the name of the recipient and attempted to cash it again. Lentz had to close out his bank account and open a new one. Gottheimer’s office is currently working with many other Fifth District residents who have been affected. One constituent had five of their checks stolen and altered, totaling nearly $25,000.
Actions Gottheimer announced to address the rampant issues at the Palisades Avenue Teaneck Post Office include:
Sending a letter to U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy demanding that he make public what concrete actions are being taken to improve operations at this post office, and those across the country, to prevent the rampant theft and postal crimes, especially during the holiday season surge.
Calling on the USPS Inspector General to stop the double-talk and move into hyperdrive on this investigation. It is time we know how all of this happened and what has been done to prevent this from happening again.
Calling on the Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of USPS, to redouble their efforts to get to the bottom of the many open cases of stolen and lost property here in Teaneck.
Earlier this month in Congress, Gottheimer questioned Tammy Hull, the USPS Inspector General, before the Congressional House Oversight Committee about how the agency plans to combat the dramatic increase in mail theft and stolen checks. Her response was that they are working on the investigation—more double-talk as residents suffer from the incompetency and criminal acts at this post office.
“Unfortunately, here in Teaneck, because of an egregious lack of oversight and action at this post office, far too many residents have to worry that they could be the next victim of mail fraud, and that the checks in those Christmas cards might get stolen or altered. The circus at the Palisades Avenue Teaneck Post Office has gone on long enough,” said Gottheimer. “Our families deserve answers, and they deserve to know that USPS is doing everything they can to ensure that their gifts, mail, checks, veterans benefits, tax returns, Social Security checks and life-saving medications are safe from thieves.”
“It’s really hard to trust your post office when millions of dollars are stolen from hundreds of residents,” said Pagan. “For more than two years now, our residents have been victimized and taken advantage of by criminals either inside this post office or from criminals fishing out checks from the local blue collection mailboxes you see located on corners throughout our township. The victims we are talking about are older adults living on fixed incomes, single parents with children, middle-class families and everyone in between. The feds have been taking far too long to solve this crime which continues to plague Teaneck.”
“Ultimately, my check was washed and forged,” Lentz. “I had to go through a lot of things with the bank to get that money back and it was a very troubling experience for me. I know that many other township residents have gone through the same or similar experiences and none of those checks I mailed that day ever got to their destination.”