Three Sandy Springs post office workers were among 16 in metro Atlanta who were convicted over the past year of accepting bribes to deliver cocaine as well as mail, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has announced.

The announcement came Nov. 27, the day the last of the 16 defendants was convicted in federal court following an undercover operation where U.S. Postal Service letter carriers and clerks agreed to deliver what they thought was cocaine on their routes.

“Postal employees are paid to deliver mail, not drugs,” said Imari R. Niles, the special agent in charge of the Southeast regional division of the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General, in a press release. Niles added that most Postal Service workers are “hard-working, trustworthy individuals.”

“U.S. Postal Service workers are typically valuable members of the community, entrusted to deliver the mail every day to our homes,” said Byung “BJay” Pak, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, in the press release. “This important operation identified and prosecuted 16 corrupt individuals who chose to abuse that trust and instead used their positions to bring what they thought were large amounts of dangerous drugs into those same communities for a quick payoff.”

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, postal workers as drug-carriers came onto the radar of authorities in 2015. At that time, federal agents investigating a drug-trafficking organization in Atlanta learned that the dealers were bribing postal workers to pick up and deliver drugs on their routes, “including through residential neighborhoods,” according to the press release.

“The drug-traffickers believed the postal workers were less likely to be caught by law enforcement because of their official jobs, and found that the corrupt postal workers were willing to hand-deliver the drugs in exchange for bribes,” said the press release.

In the undercover operation, a “confidential source” posed as a drug-dealer and asked postal workers to deliver sizable packages of cocaine or marijuana — 1 kilogram or more — in exchange for bribes. “All the defendants chose to deliver cocaine instead of marijuana, believing they could charge a higher bribe for packages of cocaine,” according to the press release.

All three Sandy Springs postal workers charged in the investigation pleaded guilty earlier this year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which provided the following information about them:

  • Kawana Rashun Champion, 36, of Jonesboro. A clerk at the North Springs post office, 7527 Roswell Road, and Atlanta’s Central City post office. Sentenced to nine years in prison to be followed by four years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a forfeiture of $10,500.
  • Tonie Harris, 55, of Decatur. A letter carrier at the Sandy Springs post office, 230 Hammond Drive. Sentenced to three years, one month in prison to be followed by four years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a restitution of $1,450.
  • Clifton Curtis “Cliff” Lee, 43, of Lithonia. A letter carrier at the Sandy Springs post office. Sentenced to three years, 10 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a restitution of $1,800.

The other convicted defendants worked at post offices in Atlanta’s downtown, southwest and West End neighborhoods; and in the cities of Doraville, Marietta and Riverdale.

Agencies involved in the investigation included the FBI, the U.S. Postal Service and the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.