Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mail Theft In Greater Fairbanks, Alaska Solved; Micah Whitaker Sentenced To Five Years In Prison For Mail Theft, Meth Habit A Contributing Factor

During the past several years, parts of the Greater Fairbanks area served by contract rural letter carriers have been plagued by mail theft. Back in 2006, Alaska law enforcement broke up a loosely-organized ring of about 10 people who stole checks and credit cards from mail boxes in the Goldstream Valley, North Pole and Chena Hot Springs Road areas. Out of sheer frustration, many residents rented P.O. boxes at nearby post offices, which cost them up to $120 per year.

Nevertheless, the problem continued, and after Fairbanks Airport Police stopped a man who claimed he traded meth for a shotgun and "other people's mail", police began investigating more than 700 reports of mail theft in January 2008. Soon, 25-year-old Micah Whitaker was caught in the net.

And on Wednesday April 22nd, 2008, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that Whitaker was sentenced to five years in prison for stealing mail. Whitaker could have received much harsher punishment; by pleading guilty to one felony count of forgery, Whitaker avoided prosecution on other charges of fraud and theft in this and other pending cases. He will also have to pay restitution in all cases. Still, the comparatively stiff five-year term also reflects his prior record of two previous felony convictions out of Oregon for meth possession, as well as Alaska convictions for theft and identity theft. Three other people have been reportedly indicted in association with this case, and more indictments are expected.

Whitaker was caught after Alaska State Troopers received a report from late 2008 from a local business that a $2,200 check had been stolen from the mail. Video surveillance from Fred Meyer showed Whitaker cashing the check. Further investigation tied him to at least two other cases of cashing stolen checks, totaling more than $3,000.

Drugs appear to be a major motive behind the crime, and Whitaker asked Superior Court Judge Mark Wood if he would be able to get treatment for methamphetamine addiction while in jail. Meth addiction can fuel just as much crime in rural areas as crack addiction in urban areas, but with the added problem of environmental contamination of structures used for meth labs. The Koch Crime Institute provides a useful resource for those who want more knowledge on the subject.

On a side note, Judge Wood won't be hearing many more cases in Fairbanks. In July 2009, Judge Wood will leave the bench to join his wife in embarking upon a two-year service mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The location and specific type of mission have not yet been disclosed; read more details on Mormonism Unveiled. Judge Wood's departure will be noticed; he has a good reputation.

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