A former postal employee admitted Tuesday to taking packages from a processing center in Roanoke where he worked, opening them, and in one case removing the marijuana he found inside.
Derek Jamar Hewitt, 34, pleaded guilty to stealing the contents of a package that was to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
Hewitt was arrested March 31, 2020, as part of a surveillance operation launched after postal officials became suspicious about the handling of parcels that passed through the Rutherford Avenue processing center.
“In the course of surveilling the package processing floor, investigators observed Mr. Hewitt take two packages off the processing line, open them, inspect the contents, but then return the re-taped packages to the processing line,” according to a written summary presented in Roanoke’s federal court.
A third package was then removed and opened, this one containing five vacuum-sealed bags of marijuana. Video footage showed Hewitt placing the drugs in a backpack that was located near his work station.
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When confronted, Hewitt admitted that he intended to keep the marijuana for his own purposes.
It is not unusual for drug dealers to smuggle their goods in packages delivered by the postal service or private carriers. Police and postal workers often look for suspicious characteristics and call in drug-sniffing dogs in an effort to curb the shipments.
Hewitt, however, was apparently working on his own.
Little mention was made in court Tuesday of marijuana that was linked to Hewitt under different circumstances, but included in the same prosecution.
That’s because earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Dillon granted a motion to suppress evidence found in a police search that led to Hewitt’s arrest. Dillon’s opinion lays out the following facts:
Late in the night of March 11, 2020, three calls to 911 were made by an anonymous person who complained about a disturbance at a motel near the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport.
The first two calls were about someone “smoking weed” in the hallway and then banging and yelling coming from Room 322. Police responded both times and found nothing amiss.
In a third report to 911, the caller said that a man wearing a black jacket and blue jeans had told her to mind her own business while he sold drugs from his room.
When police returned, all was quiet again. After noticing the door to room 322 was ajar, an officer knocked and received no answer. He then pushed open the door and found in the unoccupied room a bucket of marijuana, $560 in cash, a handgun and a receipt that bore Hewitt’s name.
Hewitt was charged after police obtained a search warrant. But his attorney, assistant public defender Monica Cliatt, argued that police had no probable cause to enter the room. Dillon agreed.
“To allow a warrantless entry under these circumstances would gut the protections provided by the Fourth Amendment,” she wrote in granting the motion to suppress the evidence.
On Tuesday, charges of distributing marijuana and possession of a gun during a drug transaction were dismissed at the request of Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Bassford. Those offenses were unrelated to the theft of mail, he said.
Hewitt, who no longer works for the postal service, was allowed to remain free until a March 28 sentencing hearing. He will face a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.