When dozens of packages containing medication for veterans started disappearing from a small town in Virginia, investigators with the U.S. Postal Service started doing recon at the local post office.
That's when prosecutors said they discovered an employee ferreting parcels into her purse.
Ammie Hale, 45, is accused of stealing packages on multiple occasions and lying to investigators when confronted about it, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Virginia said Monday in a news release. Hale was charged by way of a criminal complaint in August and pleaded guilty without a plea bargain last week.
Entering a guilty plea without an agreement in place with prosecutors is also known as an "open plea" or "straight plea."
Unlike a plea agreement, open pleas "do not carry any protection for the defendant against prosecution for related offenses, according to the criminal defense firm Burnham & Gorokhov PLLC in Washington, D.C. Some defendants will opt for an open plea if they think they might get a better sentence than what prosecutors offered, according to the legal encyclopedia Nolo.
A defense attorney representing Hale at Chafin Law Firm PC did not immediately respond to McClatchy News' request for comment Tuesday.
Investigators were first tipped off about the missing packages in September 2019 when the VA hospital in Salem, Virginia, reported four packages containing medication for veterans in Tazewell, Virginia, had never been delivered, according to an affidavit filed by a special agent with the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General.
The packages contained highly-addictive painkillers, including hydrocodone, oxycodone and hydromorphone, authorities said.
Over the next 10 months, the affidavit says there were 44 reports of missing packages containing medication for veterans in Tazewell, a town of about 4,300 people in western Virginia.
Investigators installed a surveillance camera in the package sorting area of the local post office in February 2020.
When agents began reviewing the footage, the affidavit states, they observed a clerk scanning packages before picking up a white parcel from the VA and "manipulating the contents." She then walked off-screen with the package and returned empty-handed, prosecutors said.
Investigators subsequently installed a surveillance camera where the clerks kept their purses, which allowed agents to view the woman putting stolen packages in her bag, according to the affidavit.
The postmaster later identified the woman as Hale, who is from just over the border in Raysal, West Virginia.
Hale "falsely told investigators that she had never stolen mail prior to that day" when agents confronted her on Aug. 5, prosecutors said. Court documents show she was arrested the same day and released on a $25,000 bond.
She faces up to 20 years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced June 2.