Police investigate mail scandal

By Laura Hamilton

Allegations of stolen mail and an apparent pattern of associated scams have prompted concern in Max Palevsky. Three departments—the Postal Inspector, the Chicago Police, and the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD)—are currently investigating the matter.

Concerns over the integrity of the Max Palevsky mailroom began two months ago when a student from Graham house had a Citibank card stolen from the nail, according to Resident Head John Nielson. The thief then called the student’s room, posing as a Citibank employee, and requested the student’s personal information. With the information the student gave him, the criminal charged substantial amounts to the student’s account.

After Palevsky resident heads became aware of this fraud, information slowly trickled by word of mouth to residents. When they discovered that this was not an isolated incident, residents who were missing mail containing cash or checks began to file complaints and police reports for incidents that had occurred as early as December.

As students’ reports trickled in to Ana Campos, assistant director of the Office of Undergraduate Student Housing, she began to see “similarities”—cash and checks seemed to be targeted disproportionately—that were indicative of “a larger problem.” Eventually, she said, “it didn’t seem like it was random anymore.”

Richard Sojka, an investigator at the UCPD, said Campos discussed possible mail theft with him a month ago.

Campos had “no idea how many” incidents there had been, saying it is “difficult to put a number on it.” Sojka was unable to say how many police reports had been filed.

Campos informed students of concerns that mail delivery was being compromised on May 21—five months after the first incidents occurred, two months after the Citibank card fraud, and one month after Campos told Sojka her concerns. The e-mail, which Campos sent to resident heads asking that they forward it to house residents, read in part: “I’m starting to hear more students talking about mail problems . . . many of which occurred quite a while ago. I would like you to please do the following: if people have had problems with their mail (it never arriving, things being taken out of a piece of mail or mail being damaged) that we want for them to . . . tell RH&C and us about it. We ALSO want them to file a police report with our police, the UCPD.”

Sojka advised that any Max Palevsky resident who has had mail lost or damaged file a police report; the effort dedicated to the investigation depends on the number of police reports filed. He cautioned that only reporting mail incidents online on Chopin would not bring incidents to police attention.

Campos offered the sound advice that students “never have cash sent through the mail.”

It is not clear whether the mail theft is internal or whether a U.S. Postal Service employee is at fault. Campos roughly pegged the probability of the crime’s being committed by a University employee at “50 percent.” She had not heard of any systematic mail problems outside of Palevsky. However, at the moment there is insufficient proof for a conviction, and the fact that University-employed mailroom workers are unionized means that they cannot be fired at will.

Campos said that no efforts had been made to move mailroom employees into non-mail-handling positions.

The Maroon reminds you never to give out any personal information over the phone.