CHURCH HILL — A Church Hill mail carrier has been charged with misdemeanor theft for allegedly using a Wal-Mart gift card she’d taken from a Christmas card she delivered last month.
But that one theft charge may be just the tip of the iceberg, as police allegedly found 40 to 50 pieces of opened mail in her delivery vehicle as a result of the investigation.
On Tuesday, the Church Hill Police Department charged Carolyn Elise Derrick, 39, 106 Messick Ave., Church Hill, with one count of theft under $500. Police Chief Mark Johnson said Wednesday that more charges are pending.
Derrick’s official title with the post office was “rural carrier associate,” which is a person who fills in for permanent carriers when needed.
On Dec. 27, a Church Hill man who lives on North Avenue told police that he’d received a Christmas card from a relative in Ohio prior to Christmas that was opened when it arrived. The man told police there was check in the card, but he later learned from the sender that a $100 Wal-Mart gift card was also sent with the card.
Postal Inspector Special Agent Beth Hendren tracked the Wal-Mart gift card and discovered that it had been used at the Wal-Mart on Fort Henry Drive in Kingsport.
Hendren and CHPD Detective Dustin Dean then viewed security video footage of the stolen gift card transaction, and Dean recognized Derrick, who he knew to be a mail carrier in his town.
On Tuesday, Derrick was interviewed by Hendren and Dean. Derrick reportedly explained that she’d found the gift card in her vehicle and could not find the piece of mail it fell out of, so she took it and spent the $100 balance on the card.
Derrick gave Dean and Hendren permission to search the vehicle she uses to deliver mail, which allegedly resulted in the officers finding 40 to 50 pieces of mail hidden under the seats.
Dean told the Times-News Wednesday the envelopes were opened and addressed to various individuals, and many of the envelopes apparently had their contents missing.
Dean added that the Inspector General’s Office has taken custody of the mail found in Derrick’s car, and an investigation is continuing.
Johnson added that many of the envelopes found in Derrick’s vehicle were Christmas cards and items that someone could suspect contained gifts.
Agappi Dulaveris, spokesperson for the Office of Inspector General in Arlington, Va., said Wednesday that Derrick has been suspended pending resolution of the investigation and charge.
Dulaveris said the community shouldn’t lose faith in the U.S. Postal Service because of these alleged thefts.
“Employees are entrusted with the mail, and we take delivery of the mail seriously,” Dulaveris said. “When we receive allegations of violating that trust, we take swift action. That’s the deterrent we have in place to prevent things like this from happening again.
“The community should feel that their mail is safe, and they should feel that they’re receiving the service they’re paying for. The public shouldn’t lose any trust in the Postal Service and have full confidence that their mail will get delivered.”
Derrick was released from the Hawkins County Jail on bond Wednesday and is scheduled for arraignment in Hawkins County Sessions Court on Jan. 28.