A five-year scam robbed the United States Postal Service (USPS) of around $16 million in free deliveries. It happened through forgery combined with a little modern technology.

Three men, including one from Florida, operated a company that provided two large clients with bulk mailing services. They used a combination of shell companies and bank accounts to collect payments that were allegedly for postage — but none of the money actually went to the post office itself.

Of course, sometimes the mail didn’t go out either — but that’s a relatively small issue when one is more concerned with making sure that the USPS doesn’t catch on that it’s shipping around 80 million letters for free.

Instead of paying the post office for its services, the trio forged forms that are used to permit bulk mailings. They also forged a real postal clerk’s signature on the forms without his knowledge. Using secret copies of keys that gave them access to an official postal timestamp, they were able to falsely show the postage on the mail as authenticated. Then, they would route much of the bulk mail they accepted back out — just not always when they said it would be sent.

To fool customers, the men made fake receipts. If they weren’t able to use the official timestamp, they’d simply throw the mail away — and their customers were none the wiser. Meanwhile, the trio split the proceeds of the money they took from their clients.

It’s unclear how the men were finally exposed and why the government is only charging them with a single count of mail fraud apiece. However, they each face the potential of a 20-year prison sentence for their crimes.

It’s important to understand that mail fraud involving interstate mail always moves a case into the federal jurisdiction — which can be very uncompromising and harsh toward defendants. Mail fraud is a serious crime. Even a single charge can result in serious penalties, so it’s important for defendants to seek help with their case as soon as possible.

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