The small grassy hill and handful of hedges around the United States post office in Waverly aren't much to look at. But federal prosecutors allege that for branch manager Richard L. Wright III, the grounds were a cash cow.
Authorities filed criminal complaints against Wright, 46, of Essex, and Kimberly Parnell, 43, the manager of the Pikesville post office branch, accusing them of collectively taking tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from landscaping and janitorial contractors who had been paid based on bogus invoices.
From 2007 to February 2013, authorities say, a contractor at the Waverly branch had been paid $419,000 for work that had been partially completed or, more often, not done at all. Prosecutors said the tab was more than $32,000 at Parnell's Pikesville branch.
Detailed allegations in the white-collar bribery case read similarly to many of the street crime cases that come through Baltimore's federal courthouse, with Wright demanding payment from co-conspirators, discussing drug deals, and chambering a round in a handgun as someone approached his house.
"Check this out — I need my money," Wright allegedly said on a voicemail message left with a contractor who was secretly working with the FBI and the postal service's Office of the Inspector General. "I expect to hear from you today. If not, no problem. I know where you at [and] I [sic] come and find you. We go from there. I want my money."
Wright's attorney, Lawrence Rosenberg, declined to discuss the allegations. In his first appearance in U.S. District Court late Tuesday afternoon, Wright wore a dress shirt and glasses with thick black frames. A court official said he was married with three children and had served in the Army for 10 years.
Wright has worked for the U.S. Postal Service since 1995, and has been the branch manager in Waverly, located in the 3000 block of Homewood Ave., since 2007.
Representatives from the postal service could not be reached for comment, but authorities say in court papers that Wright and Parnell were authorized to arrange relationships with contractors. They are accused of creating false or inflated invoices, and splitting proceeds with the contractors.
Court records show that a landscaper who had been participating in the scheme began working as an FBI source earlier this year.
With agents watching, Wright sent text messages to the landscaper in February 2013 demanding payment. "Yo bra u need to text or call me because I need to get my loot!" Wright allegedly said in one message, referring to a $2,000 cut from $3,750 paid for contract work.
Agents orchestrated bribe payments to Wright between February and August, totaling $36,200. The contractor, who is not identified in court documents, also made payments to Parnell.
By July, authorities say, Wright was getting tired of dealing with the contractor, and entered into an agreement with Shane Anderson, identified in court Tuesday as a 37-year-old homeless-youth counselor.
Anderson, of Woodlawn, allegedly benefited from contract work paid to a company called "Youthful Minds Lawncare." Prosecutors allege he agreed to participate in the scheme and received $21,000 for work.
A relative of Anderson who appeared in court declined to comment, and Parnell's attorney also declined to comment.
Prosecutors said a woman who ran a janitorial company invoiced the postal service for $177,000 between August 2010 and May 2013. Between January and April, she issued checks to Wright in the amount of $13,000, authorities allege in court papers. Prosecutors declined to say whether the woman has been charged.
The affidavit claims that Wright was also selling marijuana, and agents wrote that in a recorded call they could hear Wright loading a handgun as he watched an unknown person approach his home.
"Boy, every time I come over this [expletive] I got to load my [expletive] up," he said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Nothstein said in court that the FBI seized two firearms from Wright on Tuesday. Wright is not facing drug or weapons charges.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun