Betraying the Public’s Trust

True Can Never Put All of the Details in a story that might be interesting, or might even add to the commentary, but I can comment here! But first, let’s start with the story, from True’s 27 October issue:

That’s the Ticket

Students at Winona State University weren’t getting all their mail, and a suspicious retired cop decided to take action: he mailed a winning lottery ticket to his brother, sticking it inside a greeting card. The $5 ticket was cashed, but not by the brother. With the help of surveillance video, the postmaster of Winona, Minn., Sherri Jo Genkinger, 58, was arrested. According to prosecutors, she confessed to taking cash and shredding cards; federal investigators found a bag of “apparently shredded greeting cards” in her office. She has been sentenced to probation, to do community service for 80 hours, and to repay the $5 to the retired cop. Genkinger had already been relieved of her postal responsibilities. (AC/Minneapolis Star Tribune) …That’s a lot to lose on a lottery ticket.

[Clarity: “AC” is True contributor Alexander Cohen.]

“No Explanation”

Postmaster Sherri Jo Genkinger, who was stealing money from the mail, was a piece of work. When confronted, “Genkinger recalled finding gift cards,” investigators wrote in their report. “She clarified that she most often found nothing and had only ever taken cash for herself.” Plus, “In a written statement,” the report notes, “Genkinger offered no explanation for her conduct and said she hoped to keep her job.”

Boatload of Theft: A brief snippet of an article from the local newspaper from when the investigation first started notes the mail theft had been going on for years. (Winona Post)

Keep … her … job?!

Frankly, it’s amazing she isn’t in prison. They only had solid evidence of one $5 theft, but she admitted that she stole more. “Unfortunately, Ms. Genkinger decided to betray the public’s trust and steal mail from postal customers,” said John D. Masters, special agent in charge of the regional USPS Inspector General’s office. “Today’s sentence sends a clear message that mail theft is a federal crime and carries serious consequences.”

A “Clear Message”?!

Really? A little slap on her hand like (gasp!) paying back five whole dollars, probation, and a little community service is a “clear message”? What she did was a federal felony punishable by up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. She wasn’t some newly hired part-timer tempted by knowing there was cash inside an envelope, she was the postmaster — the supervisor of 63 employees — who made $6,000 a month in a one Zip Code, 27,000-person town, which is more than double the median household income in Winona, Minn.

Yep, she lost that job, and rightly so. But while all of that is “a lot to lose on a lottery ticket,” as Alexander said in his tagline, it really is a very light sentence for “betraying the public’s trust,” stealing from grandmothers sending birthday gifts, parents supporting their students at the small local university, and countless others. Keep her job? Smack my forehead!

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21 Comments on “Betraying the Public’s Trust

  1. I’m a letter carrier. String her up by her toes! We get fired for taking a quarter, and that’s all the prosecution gave her?! The public does deserve better.

  2. 63 Employees for one zip code? That seems like a lot to me.

    I’m sure that includes rural carriers. Winona has about 27,000 residents, and (I think!) that’s plus the 10,000 students at the university. Quite a lot larger than my town (Ridgway, about 1,000), and yours (same!) -rc

  3. I agree the sentence was ridiculously light! One hears about other overly light, and overly harsh ones, but not enough judges already much less to have a group of three to even things out probably.

    The method to catch the crook in the first place was brilliant and should be used in other similar thefts!!!

  4. Yeah — remember the carriers who had been holding back junk mail for years (and in one case no one on his route EVER complained). They got treated harshly.

  5. I live in a large condominium complex across the river from New York City. A big discussion in a private Facebook group was about missing packages. The management company finally realized it wasn’t about boxes being left in the wrong building (there are over 500 units spread across 14 buildings) and set up cameras in a few buildings. The thief was caught. He was an employee of the security company that provided staff for the gatehouse and a roving guard.

    I hope somebody in his circle of friends and family is making some delicious food in the cast iron dutch oven my sister bought me.

    And I hope the “security” guard is going to jail! -rc

  6. More and more these days, there’s a trend in law enforcement and the judiciary towards tribalism. If you want to see what innocent until proven guilty, a fair and speedy trial, due process of law, the prohibition on using bail money amounts to keep poorer people locked up solely for being poor and the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment all look like in operation, look no further than how a public official accused of wrongdoing is treated by other public officials.

    Contrast that to how the general public is treated when accused of wrongdoing — arrested and often violently arrested, getting to sit in a cell instead of paying sky-high bail you can’t afford, a prosecutor who piles on every possible charge to scare you into taking a plea deal (usually for what the prosecutor actually thinks you did), incredibly long prison sentences and high fines for things officials get slapped on the wrist for (or more often not even arrested or charged for) and the trend becomes more alarming.

    It looks like corruption because it is — not for how officials are treated, but because the law is that EVERYONE must be treated the same way, and more and more rights and due process are reserved for their own tribe only.

  7. I agree the sentence was ridiculously light. Any idea as to how long she had been doing this, and why they didn’t push for a more severe sentence?

    I gather it was several years, at least. As for why, you can go with Bergman’s suggestion above, or “lazy prosecutor,” or “lazy judge,” or “circumstances we are not privy to.” It was mentioned that she had never been convicted of a crime before, but hey: everyone is in that position at some point, including the worst criminals you’ve ever heard of. -rc

    • RC got it right.

      Al Capone being a perfect example of one who was a well known criminal but never convicted until they got him for tax evasion.

  8. How can this Postmaster get away so lightly? This is a Federal Law she broke, and, whether it was 5¢ or 5., tampering with the mail’s a Federal Offense. Someone else from the postal service needs to be put in jail in a cell right next to her for such a miscarriage. A real head-shaker. If I put a birthday card in my next door neighbors mail box…that is illegal, too. Really! This is disturbing.

    It’s not the USPS’s fault that the court system did a poor job, but yes: we agree it’s a mere slap on the hand! -rc

  9. I read this one and got to the sentence and said that’s all!?!? Sure they only had proof of one theft but it is a federal crime! Then there is the fact that she admitted to taking more. She has to have had connections with someone very high up to get just a wrist slap.

    I’m guessing not, since she sounds so foolish (she “said she hoped to keep her job”), but I agree there has to be more to the story than the public is being told. -rc

  10. Sadly, in our current society (worldwide, not just USA), it’s not “what you did”, it’s “who you know” that determines punishments.

    I am willing to put money down that she had/has “friends in high(?) places” that helped her not get what a “regular” person would have gotten. Wanna bet?

    No, I wouldn’t bet on it either way! -rc

  11. As a retired postal worker, I take huge offense at others, especially postmasters, stealing, no matter how little. The vast majority of postal workers are very honest. Think about how much your letter carrier knows about you, and how a dishonest person could use that knowledge. They know when you are gone and often codes to get in gated communities and oh so much else. Trust is important and one bad apple gives the rest of the barrel an undeserved bad rap.

    • Even though I’m not a postal worker I agree with you wholeheartedly. This is why I think the penalty should have been much much more severe. The minimal slap on the wrist makes it sound like it is OK to steal.

  12. Perhaps, if there is a next time, a card being sent to or from the judge might be more incentive for the judge to choose a more applicable sentence. No, wait, that would be wrong, wouldn’t it. The judge would have to be recused… or would they? But it does seem that sometimes, unless someone ‘important’ is the victim of certain crimes the crime is deemed minor. Indeed, the one rule/law for all has never seemed to be the truth.

  13. This is not an isolated case. I put three cards in a mail box in Texas and none of the three reached their destination. No money, but cards are not cheap.

    No doubt the thief involved was disappointed that you didn’t put cash in, but they had to “destroy the evidence” of their pilfering and dumped the $6 card. -rc

  14. Did she keep her pension? If so, the judge may have figured losing that would be penalty enough.

    I wondered that too, but even when I searched specifically for her with regard to “pension” I found nothing (except a couple of questions wondering if). At 58 she probably wasn’t eligible to retire yet, but certainly has/had accumulation of benefits. USPS didn’t even use the word “fired” — rather, reports said she was “suspended” and then “later removed.” That last smacks of “demoted,” so whether she was fired or resigned is unclear. One detail in the source story is that Genkinger had put in “20 years with the Post Office,” so it’s definitely a relevant question. My understanding of federal pensions is that Congress passed a law denying pensions for employees convicted of treason, but otherwise it seems to depend on circumstances. -rc

  15. I was not shocked to read of her sentence. After all, we see, hear and read what is going on in the White House and the tribalism that exists.

  16. Randy brought up a good point. He noted it said she was removed. The implications can be far reaching with that word, removed. She could have been removed from Post Master position and now is a standard mail handler, sorter, carrier. Just some food for thought.

    She’s definitely not with the U.S. Postal Service anymore. Her lawyer says she’s now working in a furniture store. -rc

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