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June 14, 2024

North Philly fraud ring stole $200,000 by cashing checks taken from USPS drop boxes, Pa. attorney general alleges

15 people are charged in a scheme that involved stealing mail keys and recruiting people to launder money, prosecutors say.

Investigations Fraud

In recent years, USPS mail drop boxes have become prime targets for check washing schemes. Fifteen allegedly involved in a North Philly fraud ring are facing charges for stealing more than $200,000 by using altered checks taken from drop boxes.

Fifteen members of an alleged gang in North Philadelphia have been charged with stealing keys to break into USPS drop boxes and then cashing checks they stole from the mail, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General said Friday.

The charges follow a monthlong grand jury investigation into a group that operated in the city's Ogontz and Oak Lane neighborhoods. Members of the gang, called SaySlide, stole and laundered more than $200,000 to buy luxury items and illegal guns over the past several years, according to investigators.

The group's members allegedly stole the keys by robbing postal workers or purchasing them on the black market. After using the keys to steal mail in the city and suburbs, they searched for envelopes containing checks, prosecutors said. Those checks allegedly were altered and deposited into bank accounts opened by people recruited by the SaySlide members – an attempt to disguise the theft.

The gang allegedly used Instagram to recruit people to open new bank accounts in exchange for a small cut of the deposited money. SaySlide's online following for its rap music helped members find new recruits — many of them young women — whom they could lean on when banks picked up on suspicious activity and froze other accounts that they had been using to launder money, prosecutors said.

Initially, stolen checks would be altered using whiteout to change the names of recipients, according to investigators. Later, the group allegedly began creating its own counterfeit checks without needing to go through the mail.

William Logan, one of the 15 people facing charges, was the ringleader of the gang, prosecutors said. He and the others are facing a variety of charges for their alleged roles in the scheme, including conspiracy to commit murder, aggravated assault and armed robbery.

Logan, 28, was introduced to SaySlide in 2019 by a former cellmate in prison, prosecutors said. He allegedly obtained USPS drop box keys on the black market, where their street value ranged between $2,500 and $10,000. The more expensive keys were for boxes in affluent areas such as Blue Bell, King of Prussia and Willow Grove, prosecutors said. Logan allegedly hired "runners" to collect mail from the boxes and bring it to his apartment in Camden, New Jersey to be sorted for checks.

In 2022, Logan and several others were federally indicted for alleged bank fraud in New Jersey, resulting in Logan's imprisonment. But other members of the gang continued raiding drop boxes because they had obtained Logan's keys, the grand jury investigation found. In other instances, investigators said, gang members robbed mail carriers. 

In November 2022, a SaySlide member and his girlfriend, who was a postal worker, allegedly staged a robbery and reported it to police. About 10 months later, prosecutors said the postal worker who claimed to have been robbed deposited a $10,000 counterfeit check into her bank account.

Some of the defendants allegedly were involved in violent crimes in the city that revolved around rivalries with other groups. 

"This ruthless organization is alleged to have used violence and intimidation tactics to protect their money-maker — the coordinated thefts of master keys to postal service drop boxes," Attorney General Michelle Henry said Friday. "The impact of this lucrative scheme was far-reaching, with a total of six-figure losses to people using the mail to pay bills or send money to friends or family."

Cases of check fraud and mail theft have risen dramatically in recent years despite an overall decline in the use of written checks to make payments. During the COVID-19 pandemic, government relief checks were heavily targeted by thieves who use "check washing" methods and recruitment schemes similar to those allegedly used by SaySlide members. 

Two years ago, a federal case was brought in Philadelphia against three men who were charged with stealing more than $200,000 in checks from USPS drop boxes during the pandemic. The rise in thefts prompted USPS to change the locks on many of its drop boxes in Philadelphia and other locations. USPS has even advised people not to use drop boxes whenever possible to prevent mail fraud and identity theft. Criminals often target the blue boxes on Sundays and federal holidays when postal workers are off and mail piles up inside them. 

"If customers used retail service or inside wall drop slots to send their U.S. Mail instead of depositing it to sit outside overnight or through the weekend, blue collection boxes would not be as enticing after business hours to mail thieves for identity theft and check-washing schemes," USPS said in an advisory in October 2022. 

The attorney general's office said all of the 15 defendants in the SaySlide case are in custody on a variety of charges related to the alleged fraud scheme and their arraignments are ongoing.