Photo: Steve Bannon, standing center, at a White House signing ceremony. Last summer, Bannon was indicted for mail fraud. President Trump, pardoned Bannon in the very last hours of his last day in office.
Every so often I get the opportunity to interview one of our clients and get an inside look at the stress in their profession. Recently I interviewed Phil Bartlett from the Postal Inspection Service. Phil is the Chief Postal Inspector for the greater New York area (and beyond). The Postal Inspection Service is a law-enforcement branch of the Post Office, it has about 3000 employees nationwide. They are a federal law-enforcement agency not unlike the FBI with local divisions (not unlike a local police force with officers and detectives). So, like any law enforcement agency, they have to deal with a fair amount of stress.
Steve Bannon gets indicted for mail fraud
I was prompted to reach out to Phil, when Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former “Chief Strategist” was arrested on a yacht off the coast of Connecticut by a couple of Phil Bartlett’s employees in the Postal Inspection Service. Bannon had been accused of committing “mail fraud.” He used a mail campaign to raise money to help build Trump’s border wall, but allegedly diverted about a million dollars of that money for his own purposes. Trump later pardoned Bannon on his very last day in office.
As Phil explained to me whenever a crime is committed against the post office or where the US Postal Service is illegally used to “facilitate a crime” as is the case with mail fraud, that’s when the Postal Inspection Service gets involved. These two broad categories include a wide range of criminal activities: A post office hold up, a mail carrier hold up, money laundering, mailing drugs or bombs or any other kind of contraband. The Unabomber (who killed 3 people and injured 26) is an example of a famous case where the Postal Inspection Service was involved. The case where anthrax was mailed to several prominent politicians back in 2001 that killed 6 people is another.
These high profile cases not only stressed out a lot of people in the general public, they caused a fair amount of stress for this little known branch of the Postal System.
As Phil explained more and more about what the service does, I was really struck, not only by how stressful this job could be but how unheard of this division of the postal service truly is. He told me “We’ve been known as the silent service for years. Nobody knows about the good work we do.” I had Phil describe different scenarios that would call for one of the members of his force to intercede. We started by talking about The US Post Office (Red and Blue) mailboxes. He explained that the Post office is starting to install new mailboxes across the country because of a problem called “fishing.”
What happens when criminals go fishing
This illegal activity typically involves taking a plastic soda bottle flattening it, tying a string to the top and slathering glue on the bottom and dropping the contraption into one of the (old style) mailboxes in order to pull out envelopes with checks, money orders, cash and gift cards. This criminal activity has inspired a whole new design for mailboxes with a small slit that makes this practice near impossible. So, these mailboxes are being replaced first in the areas where the incidence of this kind crime is highest. Eventually all the old mailboxes will be replaced.
Phil pointed out, that even a seemingly innocuous task like this comes with some stress attached. He pointed out that the news media had attacked the Postal Service for reducing the number of mailboxes, thus making mail-in voting more difficult, particularly in areas where this type of crime is highest. As Phil explained, we’ve been replacing these boxes one by one, for years now. But first we have to take the old box away, before replacing it with a new box.
Criminals also use the post office for money laundering: They buy postal money orders to turn stolen cash or drug transaction (dirty) money into clean money. People also send illegal drugs through the mail including cocaine, marijuana, fentanyl, and ecstasy. Phil explained that there are all kinds of procedures in place for spotting and intercepting this kind of package: We have informants who give us tips, drug-sniffing dogs, and we screen certain packages that look suspicious.
What happens when the Post Office is used to commit a crime?
When I asked Phil what they do with the contraband when they find it his answer surprised me. “When we discover a package with drugs in it, we reseal the package very carefully, and do what is called a controlled delivery. There’s always a team in place standing by, armed with a search warrant, that swoops in and in certain cases, an arrest is made. Those situations are often quite stressful.”
Another common crime his inspectors and postal police deal with is when a postal carrier is robbed. In that case the incident might include stealing the carrier’s wallet, cellphone and possibly having a knife held to the carrier’s throat. In this situation, his inspectors are immediately on the case, first looking to help the carrier with any medical assistance needed. Then the inspector, who plays the same role as a detective, will canvas the neighborhood for witnesses, check for nearby security cameras that might yield some clues, check the trash of a suspect, or surveil a suspect or even set up a “geo fence” in the area which can check the texts and tweets of people in that specific area where detectives can look for any mention of someone having seen something that would be helpful to solve the crime.
In part 2 of this two part blog we’ll look at what the Postal Inspection Service is doing to help their employees manage stress.
The WELCOA conference is suggesting that wellness programs move in a new direction. In my mind no one addressed this point better than Jim Purcell, formerly of Rhode Island Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the founder of the Returns on Wellbeing Institute. He says you have to change the culture from the top down. "No matter how good the program is it will fail in a toxic culture. The key to happiness in the workplace boils down to two simple elements. Having work that you love to do in a place where you love to do it."