SAN ANTONIO – A prosecutor who handles elderly fraud cases for the Bexar County District Attorney's Office said she believes several groups are behind a series of thefts from mailboxes.
Joanne Woodruff said in the past year, she has handled 10 to 15 cases involving elderly victims who've had checks stolen from mailboxes outside their homes. She speculated there are many more, not involving elderly victims, that are being handled by other divisions of the DA's office.
Woodruff said in most cases, members of the group will steal outgoing mail containing personal checks, then "wash" -- or erase the writing on them. Someone else is then hired to cash the altered checks.
"This is usually someone who has the proper ID and no criminal record. They will pay them a fee to cash it, maybe $50," Woodruff said.
She suspected that might be the case with Tommy Castillo, 43, who was arrested Tuesday on a fraud charge.
According to the arrest warrant affidavit, Castillo tried to cash a check in January that belonged to Christine Campos' late husband, Joe. The check, originally made out to Dillard's for $36, had been altered to reflect Castillo's name, and show an amount of $497.
Christine Campos said she was tending to her 85-year-old husband, who was ill at the time. She clipped several envelopes containing bill payments to her mailbox one morning, expecting her postal carrier to pick it up.
"Then I went inside and when I turned around, they were gone," she said. "And I said, ‘What happened, the mailman came in early?'"
An alert teller at her bank knew Joe Campos and refused to cash the check for Castillo, recognizing that the signature on it wasn't his, the affidavit stated.
She called police, who began an investigation which eventually pointed to Castillo.
Woodruff confirmed there have been several arrests lately in connection with cases like this. However, she said the people at the top of the operations are most likely still on the loose, possibly operating somewhere else.
The U.S. Postal Service offers tips for preventing mail theft on its website.
Among other things, it suggests that you deposit mail directly in a mail slot at your local post office, and collect any incoming mail as soon as possible.
The postal service also recommends notifying your post office to hold your mail whenever you plan to be out of town.