“That’s a lot of money”: Union claims $300K worth of checks were stolen & cashed

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Leaders of a local union worry that criminals are stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of checks and cashing them across town.

“That’s a lot of money,” said James Pool, the business manager for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 369. “That can put some small contractors out of business.”

Pool claimed that the checks started going missing in November 2021. Then in January, crooks stole mailboxes from two businesses, including the IUOE Local 369. Surveillance video aired on FOX13 showed the criminals ripping the mailboxes from the ground.

“We got the P.O. Box and at that time, everything died down for a little while,” he explained. “Then, it started back up with the mail theft.”

Even after union leaders invested in the Cordova P.O. Box, Pool said the checks still went missing. He showed FOX13 original copies of the checks, plus their fraudulent counterparts with changed names and dollar amounts.

“We are probably looking at $300,000,” he said.

While the business manager reported the theft to the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General, he said there have been months of delays. A spokesman confirmed the special agent in charge of the case no longer works in that office, but Pool said the agency failed to communicate that to him.

The Office of Inspector General spokesman told FOX13 that the agency does not confirm or deny any public information related to an ongoing investigation.

“The USPS OIG considers the allegations of delay, destruction, or theft of any U.S. Mail by any Postal Service employee to be a very serious issue,” wrote that spokesman. “When such allegations are made, USPS OIG special agents vigorously investigate those allegations.”

The United States Postal Inspection Service told FOX13 that the Tennessee office would look into inquiries about the investigation.

Unfortunately, it’s not the first time someone has stolen from IUOE Local 369. In May 2019, the union’s former secretary pleaded guilty to embezzlement, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Caroline Kelly Phelps was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay back $36,823.

Pool just wants investigators to take the current theft seriously and arrest whoever is responsible.

“I try to have faith in humanity, but you can only do so much,” Pool said. “Everybody’s not going to do the right thing.”