Federal authorities say a man from Essex County has been charged for his role in a scheme to steal and alter checks from the mail and fraudulently obtain funds from banks by depositing stolen and altered checks.

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U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger's office says 21-year-old Baba Diakite of East Orange is charged by indictment with bank fraud conspiracy, conspiracy to commit mail theft and possess stolen mail, the theft and possession of a U.S. Postal Service (USPS) key, and aggravated identity theft.

According to documents filed in this case,

From January 2020 to March 2022, Diakite and others conspired to steal checks from the mail in Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Passaic, Somerset, and Union counties, which they then sold to third parties or deposited, sometimes in altered or duplicate form, into the bank accounts of complicit accountholders who had provided access to their bank accounts for the scheme. They obtained stolen official USPS arrow keys, which Diakite and others used to access mail and steal checks directly from USPS receptacles.

Sellinger says Diakite targeted the accounts associated with the checks he stole and created false identifications in the names of the accountholders, which his conspirators used to make fraudulent withdrawals from those accounts.

Ingram Publishing, Getty Stock, ThinkStock
Ingram Publishing, Getty Stock, ThinkStock

Potential penalties

  • The count of bank fraud conspiracy is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
  • The count of conspiracy to commit mail theft and possess stolen mail is punishable by a maximum of five years behind bars.
  • The count of theft and possession of stolen USPS keys is punishable up to a decade in prison.
  • The count of aggravated identity theft is punishable by a statutory mandatory penalty of two years in prison, which must run consecutively to any other term of imprisonment.
  • The bank fraud conspiracy count is also punishable by a fine of up to $1 million.
  • All other charges are punishable by a maximum potential fine of up to $250,000.

Sellinger thanked the numerous law enforcement agencies that were involved in this investigation, including inspectors with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Newark; special agents with the U.S. Postal Service; special agents with the Office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration; and the Clifton, Hillside, Livingston, Millburn, Port Authority NY-NJ, Roselle Park, South Plainfield, Warren Township, and Watchung Police Departments.

The public is reminded that charges are accusations and all persons are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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