(3/2/12) A former letter carrier in La Crosse pleaded guilty yesterday to stealing nine-thousand pieces of mail from 2008 to last year.
50-year-old Robert Ernstes of Melrose told federal judge Barbara Crabb in Madison that he took the mail because money was tight, and his bills were piling up. He faces up to five years in prison and a quarter-million-dollar fine for convictions of postal theft and destruction. Authorities were tipped off last February by a man from Holmen who sent greeting cards with two-dollar bills to his grandchildren – and when the kids got them, some cards had been opened and the money was missing. Investigators later sent a piece of test mail – and they later found it at the Ernstes home, along with thousands of other stolen pieces of mail. Most of it was never opened. Last month, the state Justice Department sent letters to the victims notifying them that their mail was stolen. It’s no longer needed as evidence, so the Postal Service will try to deliver it all within the next month. Authorities are still trying to figure out how much money Ernstes stole.