Kenner LA October 11 2018
A manager for a Kenner post office is accused of stealing more than $630,000 worth of stamps and hawking them on eBay, marking one of the largest internal postal thefts in U.S. Postal Service history, federal prosecutors said.
Ryan Cortez, 46, of Des Allemands was arrested Wednesday (Oct. 10) at the North Kenner Post Office, 390 W. Esplanade Ave., where he serves as manager of customer service operations. A booking photo of Cortez was not available.
Federal authorities also executed a federal search warrant Wednesday morning at Cortez’s home, finding evidence that includes documents and packing materials used by the Postal Service’s stamp-distribution office.
He is accused of misappropriation of postal funds or property.
According to a criminal complaint against Cortez, he admitted to stealing stamps and selling them on eBay to support a gambling addiction.
The complaint also alleges that he admitted to embezzling thousands of dollars from the Des Allemands Mennonite Church, where Cortez is listed as treasurer in Louisiana Secretary of State business filing records.
Agents with the U.S. Postal Service began investigating Cortez after receiving notifications from PayPal and eBay regarding “significant quantities” of postal stamps being sold by Cortez via the popular auction website, federal court records show.
Investigators allege that in his role as manager, Cortez “rapidly increased” the reserve stamp stock at the North Kenner Post Office from no more than about $70,000 worth of stamps to more than $600,000 worth of stamps.
PayPal records showed that Cortez had used eBay to sell large quantities of stamps at discounted prices, with buyers often citing “Inventory” or “Invoice…Forever Stamps” on the checks’ memo lines. PayPal eventually disabled Cortez’s account in May due to suspected fraudulent activity, court records show.
In July and August, he deposited checks into his bank account from the same buyers with the same types of memo lines, such as “Invoice 1021 10,000 Forever Stamps,” the criminal complaint states.
Records from Cortez’s bank showed deposits of such checks totaling more than $58,000 during a one-month period in the summer of 2018, according to the complaint.
During the investigation into Cortez, postal agents found that Cortez “had a very active presence” at casinos, including Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans. Records from Harrah’s revealed that Cortez apparently used the casino to structure large monetary transactions–a technique sometimes used to launder money.
Investigators believe that after depositing checks from stamp sales, Cortez habitually made ATM withdrawals at Harrah’s the same day or days following the deposits.
Harrah’s records also showed that Cortez had lost more than $667,000 at the casino since 2011, including more than $220,000 lost in 2017, court documents state.
Cortez’s gambling activity could not be explained by his annual salary of about $70,818, the federal complaint alleges. Louisiana Workforce Commission records showed that Cortez had no other sources of income.
During a Wednesday interview with U.S. Postal Service investigators, Cortez admitted to stealing “hundreds of thousands” of dollars’ worth of stamps and then selling them, mostly to two buyers, one in Montana and the other in New Jersey.
He confirmed that he had manipulated stamp stock counts by using another supervisor’s password to access the post office computer system. He also avoided detection by stealing stamps that were not included in the office’s excess stock counts, such as Christmas stamps, the complaint states.
Cortez appeared Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles III and was ordered remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending a detention hearing set for Thursday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian M. Klebba, supervisor of the Financial Crimes Unit, is handling the prosecution.
A federal public defender has been appointed to represent Cortez, records show.
If convicted, Cortez faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine based on the charge outlined in the complaint, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.