ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis County man pled guilty to buying and then re-selling checks stolen from U.S. Postal Service boxes. The investigation into the federal crime is shining new light on a scheme that touches anyone who uses the mail.

Dennis Cooperwood Jr., 19, admitted to one felony count of possession of stolen mail Friday. He had 179 business and personal checks that had been removed from mail collection boxes.

St. Louis County officers were on patrol in the Spanish Lake area on April 12. They saw several people standing next to a car stopped in the middle of the road. Officers eventually stopped the vehicle after it drove off.

They found Cooperwood in the vehicle’s back seat. He was wearing a shoulder bag that had a gun and the blank checks in it. He told the officers that he buys stolen checks for $5 to $10 each. Then he scratches writing off each check to resell them for $20 to $25.

Cooperwood is facing up to five years in prison and possibly a $250,000 fine. A sentencing hearing is set for July 31, 2023.

Police started warning people in 2022 that mail left in deposit boxes overnight may be at risk of being stolen. The Richmond Heights Police Department says that mail should not be left in the boxes after the last pickup time. Those times are typically listed on the mailboxes. You can always drop mail off at the post office.

Robbers are targeting local mail carriers to steal keys that give them access to the blue boxes. The suspects are typically looking for other people’s checks that they manipulate and then cash.