Feng Chen, 31, of Brooklyn, New York, was charged with alleged theft of U.S. mail that included some $12,000 in government stimulus checks, other checks and credit cards, authorities said.
Richard P. Donoghue, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said the stimulus checks are a “lifeline” for many households and anyone who tries to “cut that lifeline” will be met with the “full weight of the law.”
On Tuesday morning (April 28), New York Police allegedly first saw Chen rummaging through a medical-collection bin at a closed medical office in Sunset Park, New York. He was then seen going through mail at a nearby building, according to court papers.
Chen was then spotted leaving the building with mail but dropped it on the sidewalk when he noticed police, federal prosecutors said. When police officers caught up to him, they reportedly “observed a bulge” in his jacket and noticed what looked like checks, according to the prosecutors.
Upon searching Chen, police recovered more than $12,000 of stimulus checks, credit cards, other checks, opened envelopes and letters with different names and addresses.
Chen allegedly told the officers he was delivering food to someone in the building, but later changed his story and said he was waiting for someone who lived there, then told police that he actually lived in the building, according to the government's complaint. He was arrested after police found an open bench warrant in his name for criminal charges involving identity theft in New York County.
“The NYPD recognizes how the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for a variety of malicious, criminal scams. In this case, I applaud our alert detectives and federal partners for interrupting an alleged scheme to victimize New Yorkers by stealing important mail and stimulus money meant to aid them during this unprecedented crisis,” said NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea. If convicted, Chen faces up to five years in prison.
Critics say that problems with paper checks the U.S. government is using to send out many of its $1,200 COVID-19 stimulus payments show that Uncle Sam should move entirely to electronic payouts. Figures show that check fraud racked up more than $18 billion in losses in 2018 and has hit about 70 percent of all organizations in the country.