For almost a decade, U.S. postal officials tried to stamp out drug use in the ranks by planting informants in post offices around the country. Today, some workers who were falsely accused in these stings believe they deserve more than a letter of apology: They want their jobs back.
Frank McDonald, now a Southern California factory worker, was a stock clerk with the U.S. Postal Service when his life was thrown into turmoil on the morning of June 26, 1986.As he was clocking into his job, McDonald was arrested by two postal inspectors who charged him with selling drugs to a co-worker. Moments later, he was carted out the front door before a crew of television cameras.
McDonald insisted he was innocent. "I told (the postal inspectors) they were crazy and they had the wrong person," he explained to a congressional panel last spring. "They threatened me with everything they could think of, but nothing they could say would ever make me admit to something I didn't do or even know anything about."
McDonald says he was set up by an informant working for the Postal Inspection Service. And a Superior Court jury agreed with him after the prosecution failed to get its story straight.
According to McDonald, the informant used money provided to him by postal inspectors to buy drugs on his own, telling his superiors they were bought within the Postal Service. In many cases, the buys were set up so that postal inspectors didn't see the transaction.
In the wake of his acquittal, McDonald assumed he would get his old job back. But the Postal Service had other ideas. He was forced to go before the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board for reinstatement.
This time, an administrative law judge believed the informant and denied reinstatement. Adding insult to injury, the Postal Service docked his retirement account for the $5,000 that they say he was paid for the drugs.
Across the country, undercover informants working for the Postal Inspection Service have left a trail of innocent victims like McDonald. The problem, one congressional investigator told us, was a policy known as "collars for dollars": The more arrests informants produced, the more they were paid.
In Cleveland, 19 postal employees and one private citizen were arrested on drug charges after the postal inspectors hired convicted felons as informants.
The informants devised a scheme where they used post office money to buy drugs from hired impostors.
When news of the botched Cleveland operation became public, postal inspectors insisted it was an isolated incident. But congressional investigators soon discovered many similar cases around the country. Postal Inspection Service officials say they are no longer using undercover informants.