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Okinawa military community dealing with stateside mail thefts

Some say they never received valuables

By DAVID ALLEN AND FRED ZIMMERMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 20, 2005

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Santa Claus may be coming a bit late to some U.S. servicemembers and families on Okinawa.

Rooms in San Francisco are full of items stolen from Okinawa- bound mail, recovered during a San Francisco International Airport theft-ring probe. Friday, 13 cargo handlers for Aeroground, a private air cargo firm at North American airports, were charged in federal court with stealing more than $200,000 of items, from computers to Barbie dolls, bound for Okinawa.

Americans on Okinawa have filed more than 570 complaints about items that were missing from packages delivered through Marine and Air Force post offices, according to a complaint filed against the suspects, who entered no pleas at arraignment.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday that efforts are being made to reunite victims with missing property. “We are still sorting out everything,” Postal Inspector Jeff Fitch told the newspaper.

He said the property was seized during an 18-month probe, in which investigators with warrants searched cargo handlers’ homes and vehicles.

Nancy Cringan said she hopes one of the recovered items is a Kubasaki High School class ring she and her husband, Gunnery Sgt. David Cringan, ordered for daughter Ashly. The package arrived April 5 — just in time for Ashly’s birthday — but Nancy Cringan immediately knew something was wrong. The package “was ripped and it had been taped shut,” she said. When she opened it, the ring box was gone.

Although the company that sent the ring later agreed to replace it for free, “I was crying at the post office,” Cringan said. “I wanted to give her the ring for her birthday. That’s my daughter’s class ring … why would someone want that?”

Mardi Sizemore of Camp Foster said she picked up a package of Christmas presents in November, mailed from a sister-in-law. Postal clerks told her the package appeared to have been opened and retaped. Missing was an earring and a necklace, but Sizemore was amazed thieves left a $150 dress — and in a separate mailing, a $2,000 sewing machine.

Many of the stolen items were small enough to pocket quickly. “We lost a watch,” said 1st Lt. Eric Tausch, a Marine public affairs officer. “We filled out a form and the next day we were called to CID (Criminal Investigation Division) to report the theft.”

He said the company that sold the watch gave him a refund; “we were helped greatly by the post office, as well,” he said.

But the thefts — particularly during the holiday season — could have been tough on families, Tausch said, especially when many parents were deployed. “Stuff getting stolen ruins the holiday season for kids.”

Cringan said the custom form on a package “tells you exactly what is in there. It says, ‘Take me!’”

The indictments stated cargo handlers would open packages, steal the contents, then retape them for delivery to Okinawa.

Postal inspectors told the Chronicle that Aeroground, with 1,100 employees, cooperated fully.

Mail bound for servicemembers on Okinawa has been stolen before. Seven Marines were convicted of stealing thousands of dollars of mail from the Consolidated Postal Center on Camp Kinser from May 1999 to June 2000.