Postal sign

ABINGDON, Va. — A Tazewell, Va., postal worker is facing federal charges alleging that she stole narcotics mailed to veterans by a state Veterans Administration hospital.

Ammie Hale is charged with multiple counts of theft of mail matter by officer or employee in the United States District Court Western District of Virginia.

During a preliminary hearing earlier this year, Hale pleaded not guilty to all counts of the charges. On Wednesday, she was granted a motion by United States Magistrate Pamela Meade Sargent to delay her trial until 2021.

An Aug. 18 indictment states that on Feb. 26, July 1 and Aug. 5 Hale “knowingly embezzled, stole, abstracted, and removed any article or thing contained in a letter, package, bag, or mail which came into her possession intended to be conveyed by mail …”

A fourth count on the indictment states Hale “knowingly and willfully made materially false, fictions, and fraudulent statements and representations” to agents of the U.S. Postal Service.

Hale was arrested on Aug. 5, and later released on a $25,000 unsecured bond.

A criminal complaint filed Aug. 4 by Todd C. Phillips, special agent with the United States Postal Service, states that the investigation into the thefts began in September 2019 when the Postal Service was alerted by the Salem, Va., Veterans Affairs Medical Center that four parcels containing medications mailed to veterans in Tazewell were never delivered,

“The Salem VAMC advised all four medication parcels contained controlled narcotics including Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, and Hydromorphone,” Phillips stated in the court document. “During the course of the investigation, from September 2019 through July 2020, the USPS-OIG received a total of 44 reports from the Salem VAMC of medication parcels mailed to veterans in Tazewell, Va., that were never delivered.”

Three additional reports of medication parcels “either found ripped open during processing or not delivered” that were not mailed by the Salem VAMC were also received, according to Phillips complaint.

Phillips stated in his report that on Feb. 25 a covert surveillance camera was installed at the Tazewell Post Office.

In the complaint, Phillips stated that he was notified on March 2 that a medication parcel containing 90 tablets of 7.5 milligram Oxycodone, bearing a specific tracking number, was never delivered to a veteran in Tazewell.

Phillips then reviewed post office video from late February.

“The recorded video details a female clerk sorting numerous parcels and scanning them ‘Arrival at Unit’ with a scanner,” the complaint states. The clerk is observed grabbing a white parcel bag consistent with how medication parcels from the Salem VAMC are shipped. The clerk can be seen manipulating the contents through the parcel packaging.”

Phillips stated in his complaint that the clerk then walked away from the sorting area with a parcel in hand and continued being a carrier case and cabinet. The clerk is later seen returning to the sorting area without the parcel.

“I noted the clerk did not scan the parcel tracking barcode “Arrival at Unit,” which is consistent with all the medication parcels reported missing.,” Phillips said in the court document. “On April 20, 2020, I showed the recorded video to the Tazewell, Va., Post Office Postmaster who identified the clerk as (Ammie) Hale. Additionally, the Postmaster advised the area behind the carrier case and cabinet, where Hale took the parcel to, is the location the clerks keep their purses.”

Phillips stated that on April 29 a covert surveillance camera was installed at the Tazewell Post Office to record video of the cabinet area.

After receiving a report on July 16 of a Tazewell customer not receiving a medication parcel containing Xanax, Phillips stated he reviewed the surveillance video footage from that timeframe.

“Hale is observed placing her purse in the cabinet at the beginning of her shift,” Phillips’ report states. “ Approximately an hour and twenty minutes later, Hale is then seen returning to the cabinet with two shite parcel bags consistent with how some medication parcels are shipped. Hale continues to open her purse, place the white parcels inside her purse, zip it closed, and close the cabinet doors. At 9:21 a.m. in the video Hale is seen retrieving her purse from the cabinet and walking out of camera view.”

— Contact Samantha Perry at sperry@bdtonline.com

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