With the help of city surveillance cameras, the San Pablo Police Department identified and arrested three suspected mail thieves who allegedly used a forged USPS master’s key to break into numerous mailboxes swiftly.
One of the involved incidents occurred March 24, when two women gained entry into an apartment complex at 2830 21st St. in San Pablo by using a forged key on the building’s intercom box, according to San Pablo police Det. Brian Biama. The women then allegedly used a forged postal master’s key to steal from multiple mailboxes within the property in about three minutes, Biama said.
The next day, the same two suspects committed mail theft at 2121 Vale Road. This time, a getaway driver was along for the heist. The thieves were in the guest parking lot for about 30 minutes, waiting for a resident of the property to open the vehicle gate. Once the gate was opened, the female suspects exited the car and entered the property on foot, where they located residential boxes and used the master’s key to steal from them, according to the police investigation.
Through the use of San Pablo’s video surveillance cameras and other investigative means, the three suspects were identified as Vanessa Hamilton, 57, of Hercules, Neykkia Owens, 47, of Richmond, and Nicole Cooks, 39, of El Sobrante, according to police.
Following weeks of surveillance, a search warrant was served on May 17 at the residence of Hamilton, who was arrested. The execution of the search warrant led to the seizure of thousands items of stolen mail and fraudulent documents, states Biama. These documents included fake checks, stolen IDs, fake ID cards, stolen credit cards, stolen debit cards, bank deeds, home loans and other forms of credit, he said. Also found was methamphetamine and marijuana, a stolen and unregistered firearm and multiple stolen electronics, he added.
Owens and Cooks were located and arrested at a later date.
“Later during interviews with each of the suspects, they relayed that they typically picked locations based upon how easily they can gain entry, and how quickly they can gain mail and leave,” Biama said.
The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office filed felony burglary and identity theft charges on all three suspcts. Hamilton faces additional narcotics and weapons charges, Biama said.
The San Pablo Police Department credited the US Postal Inspection Service for assisting in the investigation.
In light of these incidents, San Police police offered this advice for residents wanting to avoid becoming the victim of mail theft.
To protect yourself:
- Promptly pick up mail
- Inquire about overdue mail
- Don’t send cash or checks
- Arrange for prompt pick up
- Hold for pick up
- Request signature confirmation
- Field a change of address immediately
“Lastly, be a good neighbor,” Biama said. “If you see something, say something. Report suspicious activity to your local police departments.”