MAYWOOD, N.J. -- A Maywood police officer snagged three accused mailbox fishers who authorities said were carrying stolen checks and unopened mail before dawn outside the local post office.
A getaway car was parked a block away, with more stolen mail inside -- as well as ill-gotten cash and drug paraphernalia, Police Chief David Pegg said.
Officer Brian Rubio spotted the Paterson trio outside the West Pleasant Avenue post office just after 2 a.m. Tuesday and quickly discovered the stolen items, Pegg said.
Arrested on theft and receiving stolen property charges, among other offenses, were Luiggi Montero-DePena, 18, Cheldrid Sosa 21, and Eury Cerda, 20, the chief said.
Cerda also was charged with money laundering.
U.S. Postal Inspectors charged all three with federal mailbox fishing counts before releasing them pending court dates.
The more common fishing tools are hardly sophisticated: Sometimes it's nothing more than a weighted line covered with reversed duct tape or rat-trap glue.
Police urge citizens to go inside post offices to mail checks or money orders to thwart mailbox fishers.
They also warn against placing any mail in a free-standing box at night or on a holiday or weekend, because it will end up sitting there awhile.
Stealing mail is a federal crime that carries a prison term of up to five years for a conviction. Fishers nonetheless have been at work throughout the country for decades.
Most of them lower a sticky line into a mailbox and wait for people to drop in their envelopes.
But there have also been reports of bandits taping pillowcases inside the mouths of mailboxes and later pulling the sacks out like Santa Claus.
The thieves pocket any cash or alter any checks they find, then deposit the money in their own accounts. They can also retrieve information to steal identities, authorities say.
In some areas, the U.S. Postal Service has rigged mailboxes with teeth-like devices of their own aimed at foiling the fishers.
Meanwhile, federal inspectors are working with local police to identify and catch the thieves.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.