The US Postal Service is out to deliver justice against former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
It may not have come as a shock that Bannon, often described as a grifter, was allegedly caught up in a scheme to defraud donors to a crowdfunding campaign that promised to construct a wall on the US-Mexico border.
But it was a surprise to some that the USPS, the same agency that President Donald Trump has tried to cripple ahead of an expected surge of mail-in ballots in November, carried out his arrest on a $28 million megayacht called Lady May off the coast of Connecticut Thursday morning:
The Postal Service has police? That’s really pushing the envelope.
— Sawyer Hackett (@SawyerHackett) August 20, 2020
These aren’t your everyday mail carriers: They are part and parcel of an elite police unit known as the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), which has been fighting crime since the mail fraud statute was enacted in 1872. There are about 1,200 such postal inspectors who carry weapons, make arrests, execute federal search warrants, and serve subpoenas. All agents must complete a 16-week training program that covers firearms, physical fitness, and defensive tactics. In 2019, they made 247 arrests that resulted in 154 convictions, according to USPS.
“They say, ‘Oh, you’re a lot like the FBI.’ And I like to tell them, ‘No, the FBI is a lot like us,’” one USPIS agent says in a recruiting video:
They often team up with other federal, state, and local authorities to investigate mail theft, fraud, identity theft, narcotics cases, opioid investigations, lottery scams, and more. Investigations sometimes span years.
In Bannon’s case, they collaborated with Audrey Strauss, the acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York. It’s not immediately clear why the USPIS got involved since neither of the charges levied against Bannon — conspiracy to commit money laundering and wire fraud — appear to be directly related to the mail, and the USPIS declined to comment on their investigation of Bannon, which is ongoing.
The inspector in charge of the New York division of postal inspectors, Philip Bartlett, said in a statement that Bannon’s indictment should send a message to other fraudsters: “No one is above the law.”
“The defendants allegedly engaged in fraud when they misrepresented the true use of donated funds,” Bartlett said. “As alleged, not only did they lie to donors, they schemed to hide their misappropriation of funds by creating sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes, showing no regard for the law or the truth.”
Clearly, the USPS doesn’t just sell stamps — it also acts to stamp out crime.