A 33-year-old U.S. Postal Service employee was on “a two-year meth bender” when he stole more than 30,000 pieces of mail bound for residents throughout much of Portland, said his defense attorney Thursday, just before a judge sentenced the carrier to three years in prison.
John Paul Osburn grew up in eastern Oregon and had no criminal history when the Postal Service hired him in June 2013 as a back-up mail carrier who would fill in for other carriers when they were sick or on vacation. But within months, he and his girlfriend were stealing bundles full of birthday cards with cash inside, gift cards, credit cards, mail-order medications and DVDs to help fuel their drug habit, investigators say.
They also stole voters’ mail-in ballots, DMV registrations, official legal mail from Multnomah County Circuit Court, billing statements, medical-test results and financial documents, though the items had little value to the pair.
“It’s important for him to know these incidences, they are going to sideline him, they’re not going to ruin him,” said Jason Steen, Osburn’s defense attorney. “He’s still a young man. He still has his whole life ahead of him.”
Osburn declined to make a statement when the judge gave him a chance. He pleaded guilty to seven felonies and two misdemeanors — including first-degree official misconduct, identity theft and mail theft.
He could be released from prison before his three years is up if he enters into an alternative incarceration program that will connect him with drug treatment.
Osburn’s girlfriend, Shawna Marie Deweese Barrett, was sentenced earlier this week to 180 days in jail after pleading guilty to mail theft and other charges.
Authorities say Barrett rented a storage locker that was piled 5-feet high with heaps of stolen mail from Osburn’s jobs at the Lents Post Office and later the Rose City Park Post Office. The mail was stolen from thousands of victims in ZIP codes 97213, 97266, 97212, 97205, 97215, 97211 and 97233.
Police found out about the mail theft operation after a man who bought the contents of the unpaid storage locker at auction called police last September. That led investigators to Barrett’s home, at Southeast 143rd Avenue and Brooklyn Street, where they found more stolen mail.
Barrett and Osburn were arrested in late September during a traffic stop. They had their then-1-year-old child in the car with them — as well as a loaded semi-automatic rifle and mail that Osburn admitted stealing from his most recent shift.
Osburn told police that he and Barrett used methamphetamine daily, and that he didn’t feel bad about stealing mail because he needed money to feed himself and his child, according to the probable-cause affidavit.
Osburn and Barrett weren’t charged with any federal crimes. Gerri Badden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon, said prosecution decisions are made “case by case,” but couldn’t say what specifically led to the decision in this case.
The Postal Service painstakingly combed through the many bags of stolen mail. The last of it is expected to be delivered this week, with notes to recipients explaining that they were victims of mail theft.
Kevin Demer, the Multnomah County prosecutor who handled the case, said a small number of victims reported missing mail to the Postal Service. The monthslong theft could have been detected much earlier if more victims reported their mail as missing, he said.
“People need to report it,” Demer said. “If you don’t get it, report it.”