Return to Sender – Mail theft in Rancho Cucamonga

By Justine Quintana

An upsurge of mail theft has struck neighborhoods in Rancho Cucamonga over the past eight months. Many have been forced to wait in long lines at the post office in order to get their mail, due to broken mailboxes and mail units. While a few arrests have been made this year, many residents are still dealing with the aftermath of mail theft.

Abel Ruiz, 41, recently moved to a neighborhood near Day Creek and Church in Rancho Cucamonga, just down the street from his old residence on Victoria Park Lane. At his new residence, Ruiz shares a mail-unit with a portion of the neighborhood. 

The unit remains unfixed after being broken into several months ago, so Ruiz and his family, along with their neighbors, now pick up their mail from the local post office on Arrow Rte. 

"If they're stealing our mail, they can be stealing from our house," said Ruiz.

Since hearing about his neighbor's mail being stolen, Ruiz has opted to pay many of his bills online in order to avoid mail theft.

Jerry Felix, 59, is the Supervisor for Customer Service at the post office on Arrow, as well as two other offices in Rancho Cucamonga. Felix claims these thieves, "get paid by other thieves for identity theft." 

The post office is working on a solution and Felix said this is "a new issue for the post office." For the mail units that have been broken into, Felix said they will be replaced with a new security box.

These mail units, or old-style units, have a latch in the middle, lateral part of the unit. To the center right part, there is an outgoing mail drop-off opening where thieves have been able to use tools such as crowbars to unlatch the bar, thus opening the entire unit. 

With the new mail units, Felix said there will be a higher security feature that won't allow thieves to unlatch the entire unit. Thieves can potentially still unlatch the outgoing box with the new units, but the rest of the mail boxes will remained locked. 

This process can be long, depending on where residents live. In apartment complexes and neighborhoods with Home Owner's Association (HOA), the replacement of mail units lies in the hands of the management of those properties. 

For the rest of the residential neighborhoods, it is the post office's responsibility to replace these mail units. Each unit can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $1,800, according to Felix.

Since the rise in mail theft began last year, two arrests have been made. Both incidents occurred on the west side of Rancho Cucamonga.

Most recently, on March 8th, ichard Pena, 30, and Katie Owens, 26, both from San Bernardino, were arrested on San Rafael Court and San Andreas Drive on the west side of Haven Ave, according to a Rancho Cucamonga Police report on Nixel.

The Nixel report made by Sheriff-Coroner, John McMahon, said, "Both were found to be in possession of hundreds of pieces of stolen mail belonging to over forty victims and possession of methamphetamine." 

Both were arrested and booked at West Valley Detention Center. 

On February 27, Joey Benedict, 25, Alexis Vonklestrapp, 18, and Otto Katenmayer, 25, were arrested for mail theft and drug sales, according to a Rancho Cucamonga Police Nixel report.

All three were booked at the West Valley Detention Center as well.

Mendez's neighborhood has several shared mail units and hers was broken into last August and has only recently been fixed in early March.

"It's inconvenient having to wait in line when you work full-time and the wait is more than 30 minutes," she said.

She couldn't go every day and was not getting all of her mail on time. Mendez received multiple bills later than expected and accrued late fees because of it.

Susan Mendez, 53, a resident in a neighborhood near Victoria Gardens stated her concern.

"We didn't know what we didn't get."