By Robert Pozarycki
Two men who allegedly stole mail out of United States Postal Service mailboxes on the streets of Forest Hills and Richmond Hill found themselves in court this week, prosecutors announced on Friday.
Alvaro Martinez, 28, of Manhattan and Luis Velazquez, 22, of the Bronx appeared in Queens Criminal Court Nov. 29 before Judge Toko Serita for arraignment on charges including third-degree burglary, first-degree criminal tampering, third-degree criminal possession of stolen property, first-degree identity theft and possession of burglar’s tools.
According to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, Martinez and Velazquez are accused of using makeshift “reels” made out of household items such as shoestrings, juice bottles and glue traps to try and steal mail left in the USPS mailboxes.
Mailbox fishing has become a problem across Queens in recent years, with crooks looking to steal checks and personal information from envelopes that residents leave in the mailboxes.
“Paying bills or sending a gift check to a loved one is now a real hazard if dropped in a mailbox thanks to these growing “fishing” schemes,” Brown said in a Nov. 30 statement. “The defendants in this case were allegedly caught red handed with their makeshift rods in the belly of blue mailboxes. These two individuals allegedly sought to enrich themselves by taking advantage of others’ long-held trust that once you place your mail in the box, it’ll get to the intended recipient. The pair nabbed by police will now face prison time for their ‘fishing’ expedition.”
Law enforcement sources said Velazquez was caught on security camera footage fishing from a mailbox at the corner of 64th Avenue and 108th Street in Forest Hills at 4:35 a.m. on Oct. 29.
According to the charges, Velazquez was seen allegedly inserting an object into the mailbox and pulling it out with several pieces of mail attached to it. Police learned that he did the same thing at another USPS mailbox located a block away.
Video camera footage that police obtained showed Martinez allegedly stealing mail in a similar fashion from a blue mailbox at the corner of 62nd Drive and 108th Street Nov. 17 just before 4 a.m. Prosecutors said that Martinez is shown allegedly placing something inside the mailbox, then retrieving that item along with several envelopes.
Law enforcement agents caught Velazquez and Martinez red-handed at a blue USPS mailbox located at the corner of Lefferts Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill just Nov. 28 before 3:50 a.m.
According to prosecutors, Martinez was allegedly seen with his hands near the opening slot of a mailbox while Velazquez leaned on it. Both suspects moved away from the box after seeing a detective walking toward them. However, the officer observed a shoestring dangling from the mailbox slot.
Moments later, a U.S. Postal Police officer opened the box and discovered that the shoestring was attached to a juice bottle covered in glue. It’s the type of makeshift device commonly used by thieves in mailbox fishing schemes.
During questioning, Velazquez allegedly admitted to having dozens of pieces of mail inside of his car, parked nearby. The vehicle also had mouse and rat glue traps, from which he obtained the adhesive used for the makeshift mailbox fishing reels.
Police later learned that at least one of the stolen envelopes contained a check for $4,000.
Both Velazquez and Martinez were charged as a result of an investigation conducted by the 102nd Precinct and the Queens North and Queens South Grand Larceny Squads.
At the Nov. 30 arraignment hearing, Judge Serita ordered Martinez held on $20,000 bail and Velazquez held on $10,000 bail; they must return to court on Dec. 13. If convicted, they each face up to seven years in prison.