The last of five postal workers who admitted opening packages at a Little Rock mail facility in 2016 in search of marijuana to steal was sentenced Wednesday to six months in federal prison.
Mario J. Burnett, a former mail handler assistant with the U.S. Postal Service, received the prison sentence, the steepest sentence of all the employees, during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Brian Miller.
The other former postal employees, all of whom pleaded guilty to being part of a conspiracy to destroy, detain, delay or open letters, packages or other mail, were sentenced earlier to three years' probation and 100 hours of community service work, except for one of them, LaQuinta Cloud, who was sentenced March 6 to 40 hours of community service work.
The others were Artez Murrel, who was sentenced on May 16, 2019; Erica Biggers, sentenced Nov. 8, 2019; and Tony Miller Jr., sentenced May 20.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Liza Jane Brown, an investigation began after the Postal Service received a complaint on Aug. 7, 2016, that two packages had been rifled through and their contents were missing. The packages hadn't been scanned as received at the facility on Lindsey Road but showed they had been mailed from California and Oregon.
After postal agents continued to receive complaints from the postal annex about empty packages, they installed cameras inside the annex and FedEx trailers, Brown said.
She said agents soon identified the five employees as being part of a conspiracy to rummage through letters and packages in search of drugs. Burnett and Cloud were mail handler assistants, Biggers was assigned to load and unload FedEx trailers, Miller was a postal support employee and Murrel was a temporary employee assigned to sort and place packages for delivery.
Surveillance footage showed the employees rifling through packages and removing contents while others acted as lookouts, Brown said. She noted that to prevent other employees from seeing what they were up to, the conspirators blocked the entrance to the trailers with large carts.
One day in December of 2016, agents watched on camera as Burnett carried a package out of the facility and placed it in Cloud's vehicle. Cloud then moved her vehicle close to Biggers' vehicle, according to the prosecutor, and later that night, after having seen suspected marijuana in Biggers' vehicle, agents confronted Burnett and Biggers in Biggers' vehicle, finding 901.1 grams, or just under 2 pounds, of marijuana.
Brown said Burnett had been seen opening mail at the facility and admitted that he and the other employees had been opening packages in search of marijuana for their personal use. All the others then admitted to being in on the scheme to steal marijuana as packages went through the annex, she said.
Federal agents determined that packages belonging to more than 10 people had been opened or their contents stolen, but none of the intended recipients faced federal charges. The packages either didn't have return addresses or the return addresses were fake, according to the U.S. attorney's office.