Was NYC Santa conned?
A Queens man was released on his own recognizance and another man and woman were released on $50,000 bond yesterday, after being arrested on charges of hijacking Operation Santa during the holiday season of 2013, finagling gifts for themselves that Good Samaritans intended for needy children.
United States Postal Service workers Mahogany Strickland, 23, Nickyeves Saintalbord, 28, and Terry Jackson, 22, allegedly wrote bogus letters pretending to be kids or family members, copied the letters in multiples and made sure the letters were selected by do-gooders who came to midtown's James A. Farley Post Office ("Operation Santa Headquarters") wanting to grant the Christmas wishes of underprivileged children, according to the federal complaint.
The three, charged with mail fraud, conspiracy and receipt of stolen mail, allegedly received oodles of Christmas loot from big-hearted strangers, ranging from a toy train to iPads, bedding and electronics, via this and other schemes.
Strickland, 23, coincidentally of Manhattan's St. Nicholas Avenue, and Saintalbord, 28, were released on bond while Jackson was released on his own recognizance.
During the 2013 holiday season, USPS employees processed only 7,000 of the 300,000 letters written to Santa hoping to receive gifts, but fewer than 3,500 were "adopted" by "Secret Santas," according to documents. "Because Operation Santa was not able to fulfill all of the requests, every gift that was fraudulently obtained by a participant in the scheme effectively deprived an underprivileged child of a gift," said the federal complaint, written by a special agent of the USPS Office of the Inspector General. A USPS spokeswoman said all three defendants had been hired as seasonal workers during the 2013 holidays, but Jackson was no longer on payroll.
The post office issued a statement late Wednesdaysaying it was "deeply troubled and extremely disappointed by the theft allegations and "we will take whatever disciplinary action is warranted ... We believe this incident is isolated and should not undermine public trust in the integrity of the Operation Santa program," which is more than 100 years old.
Jackson -- described in court by a prosecutor as "something of a ringleader" -- was allegedly responsible for organizing, redacting and filing Operation Santa letters.
Court documents claim he copped to receiving a computer "printer, two laptop computers, two tablets, clothing, bedding, gift cards and other items" and allegedly admitted he entered the database used to store children's addresses, diverting packages meant for children to his own address "approximately fifty times."
In an interview with an investigator, Strickland allegedly admitted she "relabeled Operation Santa packages with her own address on three to four separate occasions" and had adult family members write multiple letters that she copied. She is said to have received pairs of iPads, laptops, headphones, clothing and boots and a search of boxes at her home "revealed they contained clothing, a toy train and boots." Saintalbord also allegedly received numerous gifts, including headphones and boots.
Attorneys for the trio declined to comment.
Timothy Connaghan, 66, the official Santa for the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots who also runs Schools4Santas, said that the scandal can't kill the eternal spirit of Christmas. "This is only a minor, eensy eensy eensy eensy weensy little thing that happened," Connaghan said. Santa saboteurs will always be outnumbered by "so many people who do such wonderful things," he said.
-- With Alison Fox and Carla Sinclair