Beachwood mail theft screenshot.png

Beachwood Police Department posted on Facebook May 3 after multiple mail thefts were reported by local businesses. 

A federal grand jury returned a nine-count indictment charging four Greater Cleveland men in a conspiracy to steal, sell and purchase 13 high-end vehicles and to rob U.S. Postal Service carriers and steal mail, resulting in a total loss estimated at $2.7 million.

Jaylen Harris, aka Bread Winner, 18, of Beachwood; Lavelle Jones, aka Fredo, 18, of Warrensville Heights; Devin Rice, aka Dev, 20, of Cleveland; and Hakim Benjamin, aka Keem Sheitsty, 20, of Cleveland Heights were charged in the conspiracy.

Rice, Jones and Harris are charged with additional counts of possession of stolen mail. Rice is also charged with aiding and abetting the robbery of a postal carrier and stealing keys belonging to the U.S. Postal Service. Harris is charged with an additional count of illegal possession of a machine gun.

From December 2021 to February 2022, the defendants are accused of stealing and receiving stolen high-end vehicles from car dealerships in Michigan and selling them in Ohio, according to a June 23 news release. The June 23 indictment states that the defendants targeted the Dodge Durango, Dodge Ram TRX, Dodge Hellcat and Audi 8.

The case was investigated by the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Cuyahoga County Criminal Investigators, Beachwood Police Department and Shaker Heights Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kathryn G. Andrachik and Jason W. White.

The indictment orders the defendants to forfeit all property traceable to proceeds from the sale of stolen cars and stolen mail as well as a Glock pistol modified as an automatic machine gun.

A 31-page affidavit filed by a special agent of the FBI May 26, details the investigation, which entailed use of cellphone information, internet and social media. The indictment and news release came from the office of Michelle Baeppler, first assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

If convicted, the defendants could face decades-long prison terms and fines totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. Several of the charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine: sale or receipt of stolen vehicles, illegal possession of a machine gun, aiding and abetting robbery of a postal carrier and stealing keys adopted by the post office.

Conspiracy to commit sale or receipt of stolen vehicles and possession of stolen mail each carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

All of the charges additionally carry a maximum of three years of supervised release and a $100 special assessment, similar to a court fee.

Attorney Christopher McNeal of Bedford, who is representing Harris, told the CJN June 27, “My client is innocent.” He said he could not say whether his client was being detained.

“I don’t have any comment,” said Scott J. Friedman of Cleveland, who is representing Jones.

He said his client was being detained at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown.

“I have no comment at the present time,” Christopher W. Roberson of Reminderville, who is representing Hakim Benjamin, told the CJN June 27.

Benjamin, he said, was being detained at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, too.

John J. Ricotta of Cleveland, Rice’s lawyer, told the CJN in an email, “I haven’t received any discovery yet so it’s difficult to assess the case, but once I have it, I’ll release a statement for your paper.”

Arraignments have not been scheduled in the case.

Incidents detailed

The FBI agent wrote of a Jan. 31 incident on Stoer Road in Shaker Heights involving a robbery at gunpoint of a postal carrier.

As the carrier delivered the mail, a black Nissan Altima with heavily tinted windows stopped near his USPS vehicle, according to the affidavit.

“The male approached (the mail carrier), pointed a gun at him and said, ‘Give me the key,’” the agent wrote in the affidavit. The postal worker “told the male that the key was in the USPS vehicle and the male responded, ‘Just give me the key, don’t make me shoot you.’”

The FBI agent explained that the keys are sought after by mail thieves and used to access collection boxes to steal mail.

Two Shaker Heights police officers saw a 2019 Nissan Altima matching the description in the robbery on Lee Road near Chagrin Boulevard. They stopped the car on Rolliston Road and saw U.S. Postal Service collection containers in the back seat.

They arrested Rice, later determining that he had pulled into his own driveway.

Officers found a postal service key on Rice, but not the one that had been reported stolen that day, according to the affidavit.

A Feb. 1 search of the Nissan yielded the key reported stolen from the Shaker Heights postal worker and “a significant amount of stolen mail” including bank deposits, credit cards and debit cards, including one addressed to a University Heights resident from the state of California “that would have been loaded with funds from unemployment claims.”

Police found checks in Rice’s bedroom as well as a U.S. Postal Service mail container on the floor next to a printer, which was loaded with paper used to print checks, according to the affidavit. They also found checks addressed to patients from Summa Physicians Inc.

Officers saw shoes, some valued at more than $1,000, and a pair matching a video showing the shoes a suspect wore in a robbery of a U.S. Postal Service employee Jan. 24 in Cleveland.

“Suspects will post on social media that they are in need of persons who hold accounts at specific financial institutions and are willing to allow the suspects to funnel checks through those accounts,” the FBI agent wrote, adding they will change the name of the recipient and amount “and deploy various methods such as ‘mobile deposit’ to deposit the check into the bank using a cellphone or ATM. … Suspects will also use the bank routing number and account numbers to print additional checks for the purpose of depleting the victim account.”

According to the affidavit, Rice admitted he stole mail, altered checks or printed fraudulent checks.

“Rice said that he would post on his Instagram account, identified by the username ‘DEVMONEYYYY,’ the banks he needed others to have accounts at in order to make the deposits through an ATM or mobile deposits,” according to the affidavit. “Rice possessed debit cards in his room that he admitted to using in the scheme.”

Officers analyzed Rice’s cellphone, including group chats and device location information.

Rice told police he used his Instagram account, DEVMONEYYY, to advertise he had stolen checks to cash and to recruit others to help him, according to the affidavit.

Benjamin told police he lived in the same house.

In Benjamin’s bedroom, officers also found checks, money orders, cash and court paperwork.

Officers found an Instagram account called “FREDOFROM UTW_2” associated with Jones with “$RT FREDO” listed in the account description and showing images of expensive Dodge and Jeep vehicles.

In addition, the affidavit notes that on that Instagram account, “There were videos and images of a male holding what appeared to be an automatic rifle and video of weapons inside a vehicle including a tan Glock handgun, an automatic weapon on the driver’s lap and two semi-automatic rifles on the front passenger’s lap and another assault rifle.”

Dodge and Jeep vehicles were identified as part of a “major theft ring” by the FBI, state and local police departments in September of 2021, according to the affidavit. The vehicles sold for between $50,000 and $100,000, according to the affidavit. The method of theft relied on a Pro Pad, a device used to clone keys.

The affidavit said Harris was identified as a “seller of stolen vehicles” in November 2021.

“Harris often posts that vehicles are for sale on his Instagram account ‘yfnbreadwinner,’” the affidavit reads. “Harris often posts pictures of large amounts of cash as well.”

At Harris’ residence in Cleveland in November 2021, the special agent saw two cars parked in Harris’ parking spots – one was a Trackhawk Jeep with a temporary tag and a vehicle identification number covered in paper. Then in December, more cars were found outside his apartment at the Vue Apartments in Beachwood.

“On Dec. 15, 2021, while on patrol, the Beachwood Police Department saw a gray 2022 Dodge Durango … in the outside parking lot of the Vue Apartments,” the agent wrote. While the license plate had been stolen from Warrensville Heights, the Durango was stolen from Auburn Hills, Mich., on Dec. 8, 2021, along with two other vehicles: blue and black, 2021 Dodge Durango SRTs and a red 2021 Dodge Hellcat.”

In addition, during a Feb. 10 search of Harris’ apartment at the Vue, “several firearms, including a Ruger pistol with armor piercing rounds, and a Glock pistol, Dodge vehicle keys and check paper was recovered,” according to the affidavit.

Officers received a search warrant that day for two rooms at the Hilton Hotel in Cleveland that Harris rented. While there, police and FBI agents detained and interviewed Harris and Jones as they left the hotel with three bags, containing “weapons, fraudulent checks, computers used to make the fraudulent checks and keys to stolen high-end vehicles,” as well as several cellphones, according to the affidavit.

“During execution of the search warrants on the hotel rooms, a Glock pistol was also recovered from the hotel safe of room 3130,” according to the affidavit. The 9mm pistol had been modified with a plastic backplate piece to function as an automatic weapon. It was later test fired and confirmed to be altered to fire as a machine gun or fully automatic weapon, the affidavit said.

The case will be randomly assigned to a magistrate, according to a June 23 entry on the docket, which also reads, “In the event of a referral, the case will be assigned to Magistrate Judge Amanda M. Knapp.”

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