Raleigh, N.C. — A former mailman pleaded guilty Monday to hiding years worth of mail at his home near Apex.
Steven M. Padgett, 58, pleaded guilty to a charge of delay or destruction of mail, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. He will be sentenced later.
Padgett worked for the U.S. Postal Service from 1995 until May, and he delivered mail to a route off Ten-Ten Road since 2001.
A meter reader found some old mail on the back deck at Padgett's Apex home in May and tipped off postal inspectors, authorities said. A subsequent search of the home found tens of thousands of pieces of mail, some dating to 1999, authorities said.
Stacks of mail bins were piled in his garage, and other items were buried in his back yard, authorities said. The mail – it was all third-class "junk" mail, not first-class letters and packages – could have filled about three-fourths of a semi trailer, authorities said.
Padgett, who declined to comment as he left the federal courthouse in Raleigh, resigned after postal inspectors confronted him about the undelivered mail.
“This is one of the most egregious cases we have seen regarding the failure of a postal employee to perform his duties and to interfere with the proper delivery of the U.S. mail," U.S. Attorney George Holding said in a statement. "But it is also important that we note it is an exception to the rule as we recognize the hard work and integrity of the vast majority of postal employees.”
Padgett couldn't get all of the mail delivered some days and simply made a bad choice out of fear of losing his job, said his lawyer, Andrew McCoppin. Investigators said the junk mail comes in a separate bin, and mail carriers have to add it in on their routes.
Although only junk mail was involved, postal inspectors said businesses pay money to have it delivered, which makes Padgett's actions a serious criminal case.
"The great majority of people who entrust their mail with the Postal Service intend to have it received on the other side," said Larry Gleisner, assistant special agent-in-charge of the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General. "When you do this as an employee, you risk your career and you'll be punished in criminal court."
Postal Service managers are trying to notify the more than 250 residents and business owners on Padgett's route.
A similar case was prosecuted last year in Alamance County after thousands of pieces of undelivered mail were found buried in the yard of a postal worker there.