Ten months after a federal judge dismissed felony charges against a Rapid City postal worker who was allegedly ripping off gift cards and other items of value, and nearly two years after the thefts took place, Daniel Newman is again facing charges in the case.
Newman made his initial appearance in court this week and entered a plea of not guilty. The case originated after a Rapid City postal customer who was a paralegal had her mail stolen and instigated her own investigation.
Unbeknownst to the public, Newman was re-indicted by a federal grand jury on 11 counts of embezzlement and theft in January of this year, but the record of that indictment was sealed at the request of federal prosecutors by U.S. Magistrate Judge Daneta Wollmann on Jan. 26.
Unsealed this week, the indictment charged Newman with felony counts of embezzlement and theft of public mail. If convicted, Newman faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, as well as up to $500,000 in fines, U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson Heather Kostboth said Friday from her Sioux Falls office.
According to federal court records, a judge may keep an indictment secret for any of five reasons: the need to gather additional evidence; concern for pre-trial publicity; to facilitate the cooperation of co-conspirators and preclude disclosure of their identities; to permit filing of additional charges; and to accommodate counsel for the defendant.
The Justice Department declined to identify which of those reasons was relevant to the Newman case.
“Aside from the maximum penalties, there is no other comment the prosecutor wishes to make at this time,” Kostboth said.
The original charges, which were later dropped due to a filing error by prosecutors, were attributed to the tenacity of retired Rapid City paralegal Dennyce Korb who, with a bit of amateur sleuthing, tracked down the suspect and presented prosecutors with a gift-wrapped case.
In January 2015, Korb picked up two gift cards at U.S. Bank, slipped them into birthday cards, jotted a note and dropped them in a mailbox outside Boyds Drug Mart at Baken Park Shopping Center.
But three weeks later, when neither her daughter in Minneapolis nor her son-in-law in Birmingham, Ala., had received their birthday gifts, Korb knew something was amiss. After being frustrated by what she said was a lack of concern from the U.S. Postal Service’s customer relations representatives, Korb embarked on her own investigation.
Returning to U.S. Bank, Korb discovered that tellers recorded the entire number on the first gift card they sold each day. Miraculously, the $150 gift card Korb had purchased for her daughter had been the first card sold by the bank that January morning.
Bank employees quickly contacted VISA, the credit card company, which was able to provide the entire transaction history for that particular card, including the times, dates and places it had been used. Korb was delighted to find that the card had been used by the thief to make small purchases at Rapid City convenience stores, McDonald’s, Culver’s, the Robbinsdale Lounge and the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, several of which supplied police and postal inspectors with surveillance video.
"I didn’t want to let this go," Korb said at the time. "If someone was stealing my mail, they were certainly stealing others. There was a thief in the Rapid City Post Office.”
Court records unsealed this week indicate that Korb was not the lone victim. At least four other victims, three from Rapid City and one from Worland, Wyo., are identified in the indictment as having mail stolen by Newman between Jan. 21 and March 15, 2015.
Contacted Thursday, Korb said she was unaware that Newman had been re-indicted.
“You’re kidding,” she said. “Come January, it will have been two years since the theft. Actually, the Justice Department hasn’t kept me up on much at all. I did receive a call from U.S. postal inspector from Omaha two or three months ago, and he gave me a heads up that there may be a trial in October, but he wasn’t real sure.”
Korb said she had mixed feelings when informed that she apparently wasn’t the lone victim of the mail thefts.
“I’m almost glad to hear that,” she said. “You had to know I wasn’t the only one and I’m really glad to hear they found some of the other people from whom he took mail. It seems someone else must have known what he was doing. Maybe he was working at night and was very secretive, but it seems like a co-worker would have known something.”
On Wednesday, Newman was appointed a federal public defender and was released from custody pending his trial. A pre-trial conference in Newman’s case has been set for Nov. 28 in Rapid City, while a jury trial before Chief Judge Jeffrey L. Viken is slated for Dec. 6.