Ward postal worker pleads guilty to mail theft charge

A former postal worker accused of stealing from mail sent through the Ward Post Office pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to one count of mail theft for which she could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison.

Audra DeVito, 40, of Cabot, was indicted in September 2021 by a federal grand jury in Little Rock on 10 counts of theft of mail in connection with a series of thefts that occurred over a two-month period between Oct. 26 and Dec. 23 of 2020, according to the indictment against her. DeVito was working as a part-time flexible clerk at the post office in Ward, which gave her access to the post office box section. The indictment said that Devito took money and gift cards intended for 10 different recipients during that time period that totaled $1,231.10.

The thefts ranged from $11.10 to $500 that the indictment alleged DeVito converted to her own personal use.

DeVito, who has been free on bond since her arraignment, arrived in the courtroom accompanied by her attorney, Christophe Tarver with the Federal Public Defenders Office in Little Rock. U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker explained DeVito's trial rights that she would surrender by pleading guilty and advised her of the advisory sentencing guidelines, cautioning her that any prediction of what range the guidelines might indicate would be "at best an educated guess at this point."

Baker warned DeVito that when she is sentenced, if her guideline sentencing range turns out to be higher than expected, "it's highly unlikely I will let you withdraw your guilty plea."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Crews outlined the plea agreement for Baker, telling the judge that DeVito had agreed to plead guilty to the first mail theft count in exchange for the dismissal of the remaining nine counts. Crews said full restitution of the $1,231.10 loss is required by the U.S. Criminal Code and a full breakdown was contained in the plea agreement.

Outlining the factual basis for DeVito's plea, Crews said on Oct. 29, 2020, Special Agent Stephanie Barrett with the Little Rock U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General received a call from Ward Postmaster Anthony Johannes regarding rifled mail. Crews said that Johannes told Barrett that a postal customer had reported mailing five greeting cards at the Ward Post Office three days earlier, each containing a five-dollar bill for each of her grandchildren, that had been received by DeVito.

Crews said the following day, Oct. 30, Barrett received a call from Dan McNeil, postmaster at the Monticello Post Office, regarding a customer who reported he had received mail that had been opened prior to delivery.

"McNeil stated the customer," Crews said, "received five cards meant for his kids and that they had all been opened."

Crews said that each of the cards was supposed to have a five-dollar bill tucked inside but that the cash was missing from the cards. The customer left the cards with McNeil, Crews said, who mailed them to Barrett as evidence.

Crews said DeVito had removed the currency from the five cards at the post office that was intended for delivery and kept it for her own use.

"Have you listened carefully to what Mr. Crews said?" Baker asked DeVito, after Crews finished. "Is what Mr. Crews said about your conduct, as it is charged in Count 1 of the indictment, accurate?"

DeVito answered affirmatively to both questions, saying there were no inaccuracies in Crews' account.

"How do you plead to Count 1 of the indictment?" Baker asked.

"Guilty, Your Honor," DeVito replied.

"Is that because you are, in fact, guilty?" Baker asked.

"Yes, Your Honor," DeVito repeated.

After dismissing the remaining counts against DeVito, Baker said a sentencing hearing will be scheduled following completion of a pre-sentence report by the U.S. Probation Office, which she said typically takes about 90 days. She allowed DeVito to remain free on pre-trial release pending sentencing.

"Any conditions you were on when you walked into this courtroom today remain in effect," Baker said.