MIAMI(CBSMiami) – New surveillance tape obtained exclusively by CBS4 shows a mail thief who may have victims in at least three South Florida cities, according to the West Miami police chief.
The tape from a surveillance camera at the home in the area of SW 64th Ave. and SW 15th St. shows a woman casually walking up the house while wearing blue gloves at 3:30 p.m. on September 7th. A police report says she removes an envelope from a mailbox that is attached to the home and walks back to a 2001 Nissan Maxima that is seen in the upper part of the screen.
The victim in this case who calls herself “Maria” told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that the envelope had a check inside it that she was intending to mail out.
“I feel this was definitely unfair,” said Maria. “I feel that it’s dangerous to leave mail in your mailbox these days. I never thought that anyone would be interested in coming to my doorstep and taking mail from my mailbox. That was a shock. This person could have done this to someone else so I am glad she is off the street. This is a shock. From now on I am going to the postal service directly or to the blue box with my mail.”
West Miami Police Chief Nelson Andreu says there was an attempt to cash that check on September 9th at a Wells Fargo Bank at SW 6th St. and SW 27th Ave. He said that check was inside the same envelope that was taken from the home. And then on Monday of this week, the woman was arrested after a traffic stop after police spotted the Nissan Maxima. Police say she was a passenger in the car.
They identify her as 31-year-old Sharmane Bonilla. She was charged with burglary of an unoccupied dwelling and petit theft. At the police station, a report says she refused to speak without an attorney present and then spontaneously stated “Only thing we took today was from the 65th Avenue area.”
Andreu says the man who was driving the car – 33-year-old Maikel Peralta – was charged with driving while his license was suspended. Records show he has been convicted before for burglarizing an unoccupied dwelling. At a hearing Tuesday, he was held without bond. U.S. Postal Police are also investigating this case.
Andreu said there have been at least 10 other thefts in at least two other cities.
“The mail is a sacred part of our society,” said Andreu. “You put a letter in a mailbox and expect to see it delivered to the address where it is supposed to go to. When these persons were discovered, they had credit cards and letters and all kinds of things from people in South Florida. They have hit victims in other cities and have taken packages as well. There are probably a lot of people who don’t even know they have been victimized. The best way to protect yourself is to go to the post office and drop off your mail at the post office. That way it is more secure.”
Just five homes away from where Maria lives, Neida Galvez said she wondered if the same suspects had victimized her two months ago. That’s when the entire contents of her mailbox were stolen.
“They took all of my bills and payments that I was going to mail out,” she said. “I had to close my bank account and change everything. I had to communicate with my credit card companies. They took everything. This is horrible. I feel very bad and now I do not put any mail in the mail box. Now I have to go to the post office when I want to mail out mail because I am worried about what might happen.”
Chief Andreu said he did not know if there has been an increase lately in mail thefts.
As CBS4 reported in May, mail thefts are apparently widespread in Southern California. Communities including Westchester, Riverside, West Hollywood and Corona have reported similar crimes. The thefts typically occur right after mail truck deliveries. Thieves have even targeted post offices. They have even been placing some kind of sticky substance inside the blue mailboxes outside post offices in hopes of snatching people’s mail before it’s picked up.
The postal inspection service has offered tips on how to protect your mail:
–Check the pickup time for outgoing mail. Don’t leave your mail out until right before it is scheduled to be collected
–Don’t leave outgoing mail in your mailbox overnight
–Upgrade your mailbox. Get one with a locking mechanism for added security
–Ask for a vacation mail hold when you will be gone even a weekend
–Always report suspicious activity to police
–If you see a mail theft in progress, get a good description of the suspects, cars and license plates
–Report past mail thefts
When expecting packages, you can monitor tracking at usps.com. There is a U.S. Postal Service feature that provides email and text alerts to notify customers of package deliveries. You can sign up at myups.com.
To reach the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, call 1 (877) 876-2455.
Chief Andreu says if you think you have been victimized, call West Miami Police or Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at (305) 471-TIPS (8477).