A senior San Jose postal inspector has been arrested on charges of stealing mail, including rare coins, cash, prescription pills, gun parts and other items from parcels that were torn open in transit, authorities said.
In a complaint filed in federal court in San Jose, investigators said Quan Pham Howard, 52, instructed employees at the U.S Postal Service's San Jose Processing and Distribution Center, to call his office or cell phone whenever valuable items were found loose in the mail, having become separated from packaging during processing.
Howard is charged with one count of delaying and destroying U.S. mail, two counts of theft of U.S. mail and possession of stolen U.S. mail.
In 2013 and 2014, employees notified Howard, a supervisor postal inspector, of such items multiple times, according to a criminal affidavit signed by special agent Christine Hodakievic of the Postal Service's Office of the Inspector General.
She wrote that Howard took away rare coins, loose silver bars, vials of prescription pills, $5,000 in cash and a Joan Rivers collector's box signed by¿ the comedian. He reportedly ¿told the employees he would lead efforts to connect the merchandise with their owners.
After authorities were tipped off, they set up surveillance cameras, the complaint said, and filmed Howard taking the items to a secure room, opening them and on occasion stealing them. Investigators found 130 vials of prescription pills in the room, along with the Physicians Desk Reference, leading them to believe he may have been selling the stolen drugs.
Howard did not respond to requests for an interview on Thursday. A message on his office telephone voice mail said "he will be out of the office, starting Thursday."
Howard is accused of also unlawfully taking collectible 1980s Playboy magazines, Civil War pocket watches, a bayonet, buck knives and passports. In April, investigators said they found coin wrappers they had photographed at the San Jose postal facility in his residential trash, along with other evidence that he had brought home valuables taken from the mail.
On May 12, 2012, Howard received a "Federal Employee of the Year" award by the San Francisco Bay Area Federal Executive Board, a federal agency that helps coordinate various federal departments in Northern California.
He was given the award "for his responsiveness in dealing with the media on issues involving criminal and hazardous situations," in particular providing "advice dealing with aggressive media calls" asking about the activities of the Postal Service.
Howard was arrested Wednesday, though it was not immediately clear if he had posted bail. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN