A postman pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to stealing more than 20,000 pieces of mail in Catonsville over a nine-year period.
Jeffrey L. Shipley, 47, of Millersville was charged with one count each of theft of mail by a postal employee and delay or destruction of mail after agents from the Postal Service Inspector's office discovered large volumes in his home during a March 10 raid, according to a statement of facts agreed upon by the defense and prosecution.
Agents executed a second warrant April 18 at a storage unit in Glen Burnie rented by the defendant.
The investigation began in February after postal agents received a tip from an Internet hot line that Shipley was stealing bagfuls of mail.
In a plea agreement, the defendant admits that he stole and embezzled the mail from his route and the Catonsville post office from 2005 to March 10.
Court documents show that 55 gift cards, 15 credit cards, prescription medication, a U.S. Citizenship & Immigration card and passports were among the items stolen from over 250 victims.
He also stole three stools, 10 mail bags, two postal signs and a mirror from the United States Postal Service, valued at more than $500.
Shipley — who faces up to five years in jail, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release — consented to paying restitution for the total amount of loss, which both parties agree is at least $10,000, as part of a plea agreement.
At the hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Shipley's hand shook violently as he raised it to take the oath before answering Judge Ellen L. Hollander's questions.
When asked about his mental competency, his voice quavered when he told the judge that he was receiving treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder and possible bipolar disorder.
Federal Public Defender Premal Dharia told the judge that the defense may cite Shipley's mental health during sentencing.
On his personal website, Shipley wrote that his life had not turned out as he planned.
"Growing up, I was certain that I'd be an artist," the site said. "I was good, but I didn't apply my talent. Eventually I found myself with two children whom I adored, and a job I despised."
Family members, including Shipley's ex-wife, were present in court. One of the victims also attended the hearing but declined to comment on the case afterward.
The investigation is continuing, and Shipley could face additional punishment not outlined in the agreement.
Shipley agreed to voluntarily end his employment with the Postal Service, where he has worked for more than 20 years, effective immediately following sentencing. He was placed on administrative leave following his arrest.
Hollander scheduled sentencing for 10:30 a.m. Jan. 23. Part of the reason for the delay is that Dharia, the lead defender, will be away from her office for a three-month fellowship.
Dharia declined to comment on Shipley's behalf following the hearing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Judson Mihok, who is prosecuting the case, also did not comment on the case.
Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, refused to comment on how Shipley was able to steal such a large number of items over a long period of time without being detected or whether officials had received complaints about the thefts prior to the recent allegations.
"We can't speak to very much information about the criminal investigation beyond what's in the public record. …That's just the plea agreement," she said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.