Two Mail Carriers Charged with Bribery in Connection with Narcotics Trafficking Operations
BUFFALO, NY—U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. announced today that, in the first of its kind prosecution, Dennis Bernhard, 56, of Derby, NY, and Briana Fugate, 25, of Cheektowaga, NY, were arrested and charged in separate criminal complaints with multiple counts of bribery. Fugate was also charged with possession with intent to distribute and distribution of marijuana. The bribery charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The marijuana charge is punishable by five years in prison.
“These defendants were willing to allow drug dealers to turn the U.S. Mail into their own personal narcotics delivery service,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul. “This Office is committed to protecting the integrity of this important Government operation, as well as ensuring that all who work in public service discharge their responsibilities with honesty and integrity.”
“The Postal Service is in the business of moving the mail. It has no interest in being an unwitting accomplice to anyone using the U.S. Mail to distribute illegal drugs,” stated Acting Postal Inspector in Charge James V. Buthorn. “Part of the mission of the Postal Inspection Service is to ensure a safe and secure work environment for our employees. This alleged activity by these defendants poses a significant threat to those we strive to protect. I commend the hard work and countless hours put forth by all of the law enforcement agencies involved in this investigation. Together we can fight this on-going war on drugs in an effort to keep our communities and employees safe.”
“As employees of the United States Government, we are sworn to serve others, not ourselves,” said Adam S. Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Buffalo Division. “Whether it be a postal carrier, councilman, or meter mechanic, we must honor the positions we hold.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wei Xiang, who is handling the cases, stated that the defendants are accused of accepting bribes while on the job as postal carriers in order to facilitate what they believed were marijuana distribution operations. According to the criminal complaints, Bernhard, a postal employee for 16 years, and Fugate, a two year postal employee, provided addresses of unsuspecting citizens in the City of Buffalo to person posing as a drug dealer in order to be mailed boxes of narcotics from the West Coast. These addresses were within each carrier’s mail delivery route, so that when the boxes arrived in Buffalo, the carrier did not deliver the boxes to the listed recipient address, but held on to the boxes and handed them directly to the witness in exchange for payments of between $200 and $300 per box.
Fugate also stands accused of abusing her positon to examine boxes shipped by customers which she suspected contained drugs, stealing the contents in event the boxes held narcotics, and then selling a vacuum-sealed pound of suspected marijuana to the CHS.
The defendants will make an initial appearance this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder.
The criminal complaint is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Adam S. Cohen, the United States Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Acting Inspector in Charge James Buthorn, the United States Postal Service, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Monica Weyler, Eastern Area Field Office, Philadelphia, PA, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge James C. Spero.
The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.