In the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s 246-year history, inspectors have been involved in many high-profile cases, investigating crimes, arresting suspects and helping to bring some of the nation’s biggest criminals to justice.
From the earliest days of the postal service, mail attracted criminals. Congress in 1792 even declared mail theft a crime eligible for the death penalty. Benjamin Franklin, as Postmaster General, hired the first inspectors. There are now some 1,200 inspectors responsible for enforcing more than 200 federal laws pertaining to the postal system.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest cases of the last century.
In 1920, the agency investigated Charles Ponzi for a scheme in which he used money from new investors to pay returns to earlier investors. The crime came to be called a Ponzi scheme. Nearly a century later, postal inspectors investigated a Ponzi scheme involving Allen Stanford, who for 20 years swindled some $7 billion from victims. In 2012, Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison.
Congress passed the Child Protection Act in 1984, which allowed postal inspectors to investigate distributors and consumers of child pornography. Postal inspectors have arrested thousands of offenders. Two large operations include “Operation Looking Glass” in 1986 and “Operation Avalanche” in 2001. Each operation led to the arrest of more than 100 child pornographers and child molesters who had used the mail and Internet to exploit children.
Postal inspectors made arrests in several financial schemes in the 1980s. They arrested Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken for insider trading on Wall Street in 1987. Two years later, they arrested televangelist Jim Bakker after scamming his followers out of $178 million.
Mail bombs have threatened the agency and the public for decades. The Postal Inspection Service conducted a 17-year investigation of the Unabomber, whose bombs killed three people and injured many others. Their work contributed to the arrest of Ted Kaczynski in 1996.
Postal inspectors played key roles in apprehending other mail bombers. A bomber mailed two package bombs in 2017 that injured two recipients. A year later, 16 mail bombs were recovered by postal employees and law enforcement.
The agency is now commemorating the 20-year anniversary of the anthrax attacks that occurred shortly after 9/11. Letters containing anthrax resulted in the deaths of two postal employees and three civilians. A 9-year investigation with the FBI led to a suspect, but he had committed suicide before he was identified.
Read more about the 246-year history of the USPIS
Listen to the full interview with Gary R. Barksdale, USPIS Chief Postal Inspector and Chairman of the UPU Postal Security Group, on the latest episode of the UPU Voice Mail podcast