When Millard Taylor noticed that three of his workers' compensation checks hadn't arrived in the mail on schedule, he decided to investigate.
After some digging, Taylor discovered that the three checks, along with a Social Security check, had been cashed - even though they never reached the mailbox of his Cooksville home, according to county prosecutors.
Taylor was one of three people victimized by a former mail carrier who stole checks from customers on her route and deposited them into her personal bank account, prosecutors say.
Deidre Grace, 47, of the 8300 block of Timberlake Court in Severn, was sentenced to 18 months in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to stealing almost $15,000 in Social Security and workers compensation checks from three Cooksville residents last year.
"The theft negatively impacted all victims, and [the] defendant abused the trust placed in her by the government and necessarily by the citizens to safeguard their mail and ultimately, their money," Assistant State's Attorney Lynn Marshall said.
Grace pleaded guilty to one count of theft scheme of $500 or more. Although state sentencing guidelines suggest a sentence ranging from probation to six months in prison, Howard County Circuit Judge Diane Leasure handed down a sentence of five years with all but 18 months suspended.
In making her ruling, Leasure called the crime "egregious," particularly because of the ages and financial situations of the victims, all senior citizens.
Prosecutors said Taylor told them that in November he noticed that the endorsements on the back of the cashed checks bore the name "Deidre Grace." At the time, Grace was the mail carrier for the Lisbon Post Office, which delivered residential mail to Cooksville.
About the same time, another postal service customer, Bessie Dorsey, reported that she was missing two Social Security checks and that the Social Security Administration told her the checks had been cashed, prosecutors said.
The checks had been deposited into Grace's Navy Federal Credit Union bank account. After getting Grace's bank records, a third victim, Charles Kim, was discovered, prosecutors said.
The bank records showed that in total, Grace had deposited 11 checks that belonged to postal service customers totaling $14,776. That included six of Taylor's workers' compensation checks, his July 2007 Social Security check, and a check that was sent to him to replace that stolen Social Security check.
During Wednesday's plea hearing, defense attorney Janette DeBoissiere told the judge that Grace was desperate for money because she was about to lose her home. DeBoissiere argued that the brazenness of the crime illustrated such desperation, adding that the scheme "wasn't clever."
Grace also addressed the judge, asking her to consider her financial situation when she committed the crimes and the fact that she had no previous convictions.
But Marshall suggested that other factors should be considered in determining Grace's sentence. The prosecutor told the judge that Dorsey had been undergoing rehabilitation after surgery and had to reduce her sessions from twice a week to once a week because she could not afford to pay for them after her money was stolen. Marshall also noted the other items found at the time of Grace's arrest imply that she had planned to continue the scheme.
When Grace was arrested in February, law enforcement officials found seven pieces of mail belonging to other people, prosecutors said. Three of those envelopes were addressed to Taylor. Two of the envelopes contained personal identification numbers to financial accounts, and one had new credit cards.
In the purse, officials also found a Maryland identification card with Grace's photo and the name Theresum Arthur, who Grace said was her cousin. There was also a Social Security card and Visa check card in Arthur's name, prosecutors said.
The United States Postal Service encourages customers to report when they think their mail is missing and takes all cases seriously, said Rhonda Holmes, assistant special agent in charge for the Office of the Inspector, the Postal Service office that handles internal fraud investigations.
"We promote integrity in the Postal Service and take these acts very seriously," Holmes said. "The majority of postal employees are honest and works very hard to deliver the mail. Unfortunately, there are a few people who abuse the public trust that is placed in them."
Taylor, who attended the hearing with his wife, pleaded with the judge to put Grace in prison for fear that she would do the same thing to someone else.
"Just look at us," Taylor said, as he shook his head and pointed to his weeping wife.