Interns Stamp out Drugs and Fraud in the U.S. Mail

Miguel Sanchez, intern for Inspector General of the U.S. Postal Service
Miguel Sanchez

Come rain, sleet, snow or hail, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service will be stamping out crime in the mail, assisted this fall by two Sam Houston State University students.

Lauren Morales, intern, Inspector General, U.S. Postal Service.
Lauren Moralez.
Miguel Sanchez and Lauren Morales, both seniors in the College of Criminal Justice, are serving as interns this semester at two offices in Houston. They are rotating among squads that tackle external crimes; facility security; mail fraud; and the prohibited mailing of drugs, weapons and other contraband.

"If they were to become postal inspectors, they would have an idea of what the agency is about," said Inspector Sean Lynch. "The internship also provides hands-on experience with nearly all aspects of law enforcement."

The U.S. Postal Service is a federal agency charged with enforcing more than 200 federal laws covering crimes affecting the U.S. Mail and postal system. Like other law enforcement agents, postal inspectors can make arrests or serve warrants and subpoenas.

“Each team works differently,” said Morales. “It’s a very educational experience. It’s certainly different than learning in class. We use what we have learned…It’s also not like what you see on TV. Cases aren’t solved in an hour. You want to build your case and get a lot of information. It takes patience and research skills.”

At the mail fraud unit , inspectors investigate crimes that utilize the U.S. Postal Service to make money or defraud individuals, such as financial schemes and illegal use of postage and postal system. In fact, two recent, national, multi-million dollar cases -- the Stanford and Madoff Ponzi schemes -- were based on mail fraud charges.

Morales participated in a search warrant in a fraud case, which also involved the Texas Attorney General’s Office. She got to see the differences in the process between state and federal agencies and to witness interviewing techniques in an emotionally charged atmosphere. During her tenure, Morales also watched the sentencing phase of a court case and how the federal courts operate.

The drug unit at Postal Inspection intercepts drugs and weapons sent through the U.S. Mail. They also seize the money used in drug transactions. Gomez said marijuana and codeine in cough syrup are big items in the Houston market.

“They are keeping drugs off the streets, but for every parcel they catch, nine more get through,” Sanchez said. “We are going after the money now and hit them in their financial resources.”

Sanchez said he now knows the amount of work that goes into obtaining a subpoena or search warrant and the legwork required to make an arrest. He also got a behind-the-scenes look at a task force in action. During his assignment, Gomez helped seize two Cadillac Escalades and to process an arrest with fingerprints and DNA samples.

“I would like to be a federal agent,” said Sanchez. “I have no preference as to which agency.” In the external crimes unit, inspectors investigate general criminal offenses committed against the U.S. Postal Services by outside entities, such as theft, identity theft, robbery, burglary and assault. Inspectors also are involved in providing security for U.S. Postal Service buildings and vehicles. This includes post offices, processing centers, delivery stations, customer services windows, and maintenance facility.

“Anything that has the USPS name on it, we handle the security, ” said Lynch.

Morales recommends that all students at SHSU participate in an internship to get a leg-up on their career. About 125 students a year participate in internships offered by the College of Criminal Justice, which include federal, state, county and local law enforcement and correction agencies as well victims’ services and private security. Internships are offered in the senior year and require a full-time, 40 hour assignment for a semester. Undergraduates earn nine semester hour credits and graduate students earn six.

“I definitely think it’s important for students to take advantage of the Internship Office and get an internship before they graduate,” Morales said. “It is better to get experience as an undergraduate. You can get tips and a heads-up about what to say and what not to say.”

“I think I learned professionalism,” Morales added. “In the end, it’s going to give me an edge. I know how to carry myself; I know how to multi-task; and I know how to network.”

Lynch said he has been impressed with the interns from SHSU.

“We really like the program,” Lynch said. “We get good people from Sam Houston. They are very intelligent and very eager to learn. They are also very excited. They are willing to work the long hours. If we work late, they want to work late with us.”

Member of The Texas State University System