May 18—A postal service key that unlocks "all Dayton-area mailboxes" was stolen recently, police records show, leading to what authorities say is a growing number of check thefts from many urban and suburban post offices.
Items were reported stolen after being mailed this weekend at outdoor drop boxes at seven post offices in Beavercreek, Dayton, Kettering and the Centerville/Washington Twp. area, police said Wednesday.
Postal service officials are investigating, but they declined to comment on a Dayton police report obtained by this news organization regarding the stolen key. They also declined to comment on any security issues taken after the key's theft.
The key, the May 14 police report states, was stolen "a week back," days before the Dayton Daily News was first to report on a series of postal service drop box thefts in Beavercreek, Dayton and Kettering.
The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office said it has received reports of 26 check thefts from outdoor mailboxes since February — many of them involving the Washington Twp. post office on Paragon Road — including one Monday, Capt. Mike Brem said.
In Kettering and Riverside instances reported this week, nearly $75,000 in stolen checks were later cashed by parties they were not issued to, police said.
"I had one victim tell me $50,000 has already passed through (their company's) checking account and not (by) the people they wrote the checks to," Kettering Detective Vince Mason said.
The Dayton police report was filed after a post office manager notified authorities at 2:30 a.m. Saturday that he discovered the drive-up mailbox was open at 1111 E. Fifth St. building.
The post office manager said the key "unlocks all mailboxes in the Dayton area" and "that several mailboxes have been opened around different locations in the city since the key has been stolen," the police report states.
The post office manager said, "the mailbox had not been damaged and he was unsure if any mail was stolen," according to the police report.
But Mason said Wednesday morning the Dayton main post office was one of the sites named by at least one of five victims he had contacted so far. Evidence he had gone through at that point included about 90 business and individual potential victims, but was likely to grow to "closer to 200."
No arrests have been made in the Beavercreek or Kettering cases, officials said. Dayton police had not responded to a similar inquiry by late Wednesday afternoon.
The early Saturday morning call to Dayton police came less than an hour after Beavercreek and Kettering law enforcement reported mail thefts from drop boxes outside post offices in those cities, documents show.
Beavercreek police saw at least one person flee the Dayton-Xenia Road post office in a minivan at about 1:45 a.m. Saturday, records show. An officer was unable to catch the vehicle after a short chase in which the driver ran a red light after leaving "at a high rate of speed" on Research Park Boulevard, a police report states.
All four drop boxes were later found open with two nearby "mail totes" empty except for one envelope. An alert was issued to surrounding law enforcement, according to the police report.
About 2:10 a.m. Saturday, Kettering police responded to a post office at 1490 Forrer Blvd. on a theft complaint, documents show.
The thieves used a key to gain access to Kettering's Forrer post office drop boxes and apparently later disposed of any mail that did not contain checks, Mason said.
Postal inspectors have "an active investigation going on and I cannot comment on specifics due to ensuring the integrity of that investigation," USPS spokeswoman Nicole Lutz said Wednesday in an email.
"The U.S. mail remains one of the most secure means of transmitting information. Some preventive tips we provide postal customers is to try and place outgoing mail in the USPS blue collection boxes before the last pick-up time for the day," she said.
"This ensures the outgoing mail will be processed that day," Lutz added. "Customers can also walk into any post office and place their outgoing mail inside a mail receptable or hand to a postal clerk over the counter."
The sheriff's office is "pointing everybody to go inside the drop-off locations because there is so much uncertainty," Brem said.
He said the checks that have been changed after the thefts have a combined value of tens of thousands of dollars. Some checks, Brem said, have been cashed, but others were flagged before being processed.
It's unclear exactly how much has been stolen at this time.
A check stolen and cashed for $24,000 was reported Wednesday by a business in Riverside, Maj. Matthew Sturgeon said.
The check, which was dropped into an outside box at the Washington Twp. post office, was originally issued to a California business, but altered after the theft, Sturgeon said.
Staff Writers Ed Richter and Eric Schwartzberg contributed to this report.