U.S. Postal Inspection officer at the N. George Mason Drive Post Office on Oct. 13, 2020

One of five individuals implicated in a scheme to steal mail from Postal Service boxes around Arlington County has pleaded guilty.

Aaron Kyle Johnson pleaded guilty in Alexandria federal court on May 28 in connection to the scheme, which lasted more than a year, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office tells ARLnow.

A statement of facts document entered with the guilty plea says that Johnson and his co-conspirators stole mail from blue mailboxes around Arlington, including those outside the post offices in Buckingham and on N. George Mason Drive, using a USPS master key known as an “arrow key.”

The document does not say how the suspects obtained the key and prosecutors did not provide additional detail after inquiries by ARLnow. In a discussion on an online forum among numerous residents who reported having their mail stolen, one resident reported having been told by law enforcement that the key was stolen from a postal employee at gunpoint.

The crime spree started in late 2019 and continued until March 2021, according to the document. There were numerous victims, including individuals and local businesses. ARLnow’s initial report detailing numerous reports of mail thefts, mostly from the George Mason Drive post office, was published in October 2020 after we photographed a U.S. Postal Inspection investigator kneeling besides one of the post office’s blue boxes.

The suspects, prosecutors say, would steal checks from mailed letters and fraudulently deposit them at local banks, using false identification and forgery. In one case, a $21,000 check from an Arlington business was stolen and “altered such that it was made payable to ‘John Martian,'” according to the document.

In early March 2021, Johnson and another defendant were found “in possession of approximately 150 personal checks and approximately 50 business checks drafted by individuals and businesses located in and around Arlington County, Virginia, many of which were stolen from the mail in or around Arlington County,” the document says. “Some of the checks were in the process of being altered.”

Johnson and another suspect also kept records of personally-identifiable information gleaned from stolen mail, prosecutors say.

The suspects “disposed of any mail that had no value to the defendant or his co-conspirators such that the mail” — which would have been anything from greeting cards to smaller bill payments — “could not reach its intended recipients,” the document said.

The scheme was perpetrated for financial gain, allowing Johnson to purchase “numerous luxury items,” among other things.

“Between no later than 2019 and in or around March 2021, the defendant used the proceeds gleaned from mail theft, bank fraud, and/or identity theft to enrich himself, including purchases of numerous luxury items, clothing, and apartment rentals,” said the statement of facts, which Johnson admitted to as part of his plea.

The scheme was almost foiled in February 2020 when the stolen key became stuck in a blue USPS collection box in Arlington. Johnson and his co-conspirators discussed what to do, and finally a few hours later one suspect was able to dislodge it, according to the document.

Prosecutors identified four other suspects in the case.

Keshawna Howard, who has a July 27 trial date; Jose Reyes, who is in law enforcement custody in Maryland; Malcom Ward, who was arrested this past Monday on bank fraud charges; and Miles Ward, Malcom’s brother, who died in March. The cause of Miles Ward’s death was not disclosed.

A U.S. Postal Inspection Service spokesperson declined comment when reached by ARLnow in late May, citing an “active investigation.”

Johnson’s sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 24.

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