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Suspected mail thief caught in Turlock
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Monica Vasquez

A Livingston woman was arrested in Turlock Thursday after a witness saw her stealing mail, according to the Turlock Police Department.

Monica Vasquez, 29, was taken into custody Thursday on suspicion of petty theft.

The incident began shortly before 1 p.m. Thursday when a person in the 1600 block of Baywood Lane saw Vasquez allegedly take mail from a private mailbox that did not belong to her, according to the police department.

The witness called the police department to report the suspected theft and gave a description of Vasquez. Officers responded and located Vasquez in the area. She was taken into custody and booked into the Stanislaus County Jail.

Vasquez was previously arrested by the Turlock Police Department in January for suspected auto theft.

Catching mail thieves has become a particular focus of the Turlock Police Department as the area and the county as a whole is experiencing an uptick in the crime. Mail theft is a growing crime in communities across the country, particularly in California, especially along the Highway 99 corridor from Bakersfield to Sacramento, which Rafael Nunez, the inspector in charge for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s San Francisco division described as a “hotbed of activity” and largely fueled by methamphetamine use.

Through 2016 and up to February the Turlock Police Department has had 224 reports of break-ins or damaged mailboxes.

To charge someone with mail theft they have to actually be caught breaking into the mailbox, or there needs to be compelling evidence that shows they were responsible for the theft. More often, people caught with mail not belonging to them are charged with possession of stolen property. Under Prop 47 if the value of the stolen mail is less than $950 it is considered a misdemeanor and the suspect is issued a citation.

Even when individuals are caught breaking into mailboxes or with stolen mail, the prosecution of such offenses has various hurdles to overcome. Mail theft is a felony crime in California, but under AB 109 it is an offense that requires convictions be served at county jails and not state prisons. Mail theft is also a federal crime, but federal prosecutors can’t go after each little theft because of a lack of resources.