Postal worker steals prescription drug package and lands jail time

By Jamie Satterfield
Citing the need to protect the "sanctity" of the country's mail service, a federal judge Wednesday rejected a probationary sentence for a postal worker convicted of stealing a package of prescription pain killers he thought had been shipped to a military veteran.

"The country relies upon the sanctity of the mail," U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan said.

Jereme Deal only faced a maximum six-month prison term. Assistant Federal Defender Kim Tollison pushed for probation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Morris urged a four-month prison term. Varlan opted for two months behind bars and another 40 hours of community service.

Deal was nabbed in a sting by the Veterans Administration's Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service after packages of pain medication bound for veterans began turning up missing.

In March 2006, a package of hydrocodone was sent to the Lenoir City post office where Deal worked, and an agent called to inquire about it. Deal wound up taking the package, according to Morris.

Tollison argued it was a one-time crime that stemmed from Deal's addiction to pain killers that developed after he was injured on the job. Morris contended it was a pattern of thievery. However, Deal was only convicted of a single mail theft charge.

Deal checked himself into rehab after his arrest, Tollison said.

"Judge, that's a success story," Tollison said. "Why should we put Jereme Deal in prison at this point?"

Morris argued that Americans need to be able to trust postal workers not to steal their mail.

"This was not an isolated incident," Morris argued.

Varlan said Deal only turned repentant after his conviction at a trial last December.

"The defendant accepted responsibility for his actions after he maintained his innocence for 13 months," Varlan said.

Deal apologized for the crime, saying, "I just had a drug problem. I went to rehab. I cleaned myself up."