At least some Pennsauken, New Jersey, residents didn't receive their tax refunds in 2014, courtesy of veteran postman Earl Champagne, pleaded guilty on Friday to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks from his route.
In total, the Associated Press reported, prosecutors alleged Champagne stole 72 checks worth a cumulative $443,000. Champagne pleaded guilty to both theft of government money and theft of U.S. mail, and could receive up to 15 years in prison for each count in sentencing on Aug. 3.
According to the Trentonian, Champagne and "two unnamed co-conspirators" targeted people with "Spanish names." The paper also reported Stolen Identity Refund Fraud, the umbrella term for filing falsified tax returns in the name of other U.S. residents and then intercepting resulting refund checks before residents receive them, costs the federal government $2 billion annually by the Treasury's estimate. Many victims of the scam are in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico and thus are kept totally in the dark about the fraudulent returns.
"The individuals expected to either pick up the checks from Champagne or for him to notify them that the checks were in the mailbox so that they could retrieve the checks themselves," the federal prosecutor's office told the Courier-Post. The co-conspirators paid the postman $50 for each of the envelopes, meaning he ultimately collected about $3,600 in bribes, or less than 1% of the total known take of the operation.