4 Northeast Ohioans accused of stealing vehicles, U.S. Mail; robbing postal carriers

United States Postal Service
United States Postal Service(Nati Harnik | AP)
Published: Jun. 24, 2022 at 11:12 PM EDT

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Four Northeast Ohioans are charged with organizing and engaging in a conspiracy to steal, sell and purchase high-end vehicles, rob Postal Service carriers, and steal from the U.S. mail, the Department of Justice confirmed.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle M. Baeppler announced that a federal grand jury returned a nine-count indictment charging the following defendants:

  • 20-year-old Hakim Benjamin of Cleveland Heights
  • 19-year-old Jaylen Harris of Beachwood
  • 18-year-old Lavelle Jones of Warrensville Heights
  • 20-year-old Devin Rice of Cleveland

Harris, Jones, Rice, and Benjamin are each charged with conspiracy to commit sale or receipt of stolen vehicles and sale or receipt of stolen vehicles, the DOJ listed.  

The DOJ said Harris, Jones, and Rice 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 adopted by the Post Office, according to the DOJ.

The DOJ stated Harris is charged with an additional count of illegal possession of a machine gun.

Court documents show the defendants are accused of stealing and buying high-end vehicles from car dealerships in Michigan and transporting the vehicles to be sold in Northern Ohio from Dec. 2021 to Feb. 2022, the DOJ said.

According to the DOJ, the indictment states that the defendants targeted specific vehicles to steal and buy, including the Dodge Durango, Dodge Ram TRX, Dodge Hellcat, Audi 8, among others.

“In addition to the car theft conspiracy, Defendants Rice, Jones and Harris are charged with organizing and engaging in a conspiracy to rob Postal Service carriers, steal Postal Service mail keys and illegally obtain mail from Postal Service collection boxes,” the DOJ described. “Court documents state that the defendants sought to obtain Postal Service collection box keys from mail carriers in order to steal checks and other items of value from the U.S. mail.”

The DOJ stated the defendants would allegedly often rob on-duty mail carriers of their collection box keys, then pull checks and other items of value from the mail.

Authorities arrested Rice on Jan. 31 after being accused of committing robbery and assault of a Postal Service carrier, the DOJ said.

According to the DOJ, it is alleged that Rice was found to be in possession of several pieces of stolen mail during the arrest.

A search warrant was executed at a hotel on Feb. 10 where Harris and Jones were staying, the DOJ said.

The DOJ said the search led authorities to find numerous pieces of stolen mail and a firearm belonging to Harris that was modified to fire as a machinegun.

Court records state that the defendants caused an estimated potential loss of $2,700,000 as a result of the various schemes, according to the DOJ.

The Department of Justice stated the following:

“An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt.  The defendants are entitled to a fair trial in which it is the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

If convicted, the defendants’ sentence will be determined by the court after a review of factors unique to this case, including prior criminal record, if any, role in the offenses, and the characteristics of the violation.

In all cases, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum, and in most cases, it will be less than the maximum.”

The FBI, United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Cuyahoga County Criminal Investigators, Beachwood Police Department, and Shaker Heights Police Department investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kathryn G. Andrachik and Jason W. White are prosecuting the case.

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