Mail Chauvinists

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Enrique Gutierrez, however, considers bringing Jerry Lenn and Wanda Martinez to justice among the greatest triumphs of the inspectors at the Miramar office.

The public first heard of the married couple on February 24, 2000, when the Miami Herald reported that Lenn, age 49, and Martinez, age 41, had called in sick on February 6 to their high-level postal jobs and never returned. Lenn worked as a manager of support services and administered maintenance contracts in South Florida. Martinez was a computer-systems manager and responsible for certifying that contractor invoices were accurate. Left behind was the couple's $1 million home in Parkland, a lavish homestead with a Jacuzzi waterfall and marble staircases. Investigators told reporters at the time that they had no indication the couple had been involved in any wrongdoing.

In truth, however, agents of the Internal Revenue Service and the Postal Service Office of the Inspector General had been investigating kickbacks Lenn and Martinez had received. The pair would approve payments for phony companies, money that was then laundered by New York accountant Robert Rachlin. Martinez and Lenn would receive kickbacks from Rachlin. When the two caught wind of the probe, they fled to Caracas, Venezuela.

"I came in one morning, and I said, 'That's it. We're going to go get them,'" recalls Gutierrez. "I'm not a very patient man when it comes to things like this."

Jack Galvin, then an inspector at the Miramar office, remembers that morning of March 6, 2000, quite well. He was told to report to his bosses pronto, recalls Galvin, who now supervises postal inspectors from the Jacksonville office. "There had been a series of newspaper articles out that weekend about Jerry and Wanda fleeing, and well, they were not happy." (A Herald article quoted one of Lenn's neighbors as saying, "The postal inspector asked me if I knew of any of their relatives -- apparently they couldn't find any of their next of kin.") Galvin, a native of Brooklyn, had in fact already been sent to New York City to interview Lenn's brothers soon after the disappearances.

Galvin and three other inspectors worked full-time on the manhunt and soon concluded that Lenn and Martinez had flown to Venezuela. Although the federal agents had no jurisdiction in that country, at the time, the postal inspection service had solid contacts with certain law-enforcement agencies there. Galvin and his team flew to Caracas and, with the help of local police, began tracking the couple. The team had learned much about their quarry before leaving the states, such as the fact that Martinez was an exercise and vitamin fanatic. Galvin was certain that if the woman was still living in the city, she would eventually patronize a gym or health-food store. If she were accompanied by her husband, a Chinese-American, the pair would likely be memorable in a country with such a small Asian population. Indeed, the investigators quickly found a gym owner who said Lenn and Martinez came there frequently but were using different names. Galvin tracked them to their address, but they had cleared out a week before. The trail led them to a hotel room, where local police arrested them for using false identification. Rather than prosecute them, Caracas police deported them. On April 7, just five days after arriving in Caracas, Galvin and his team boarded a flight to Miami with Lenn and Martinez. The two were taken into custody upon landing.

The couple pleaded guilty to bilking the U.S. Postal Service out of $3.2 million. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley on January 5, 2001, gave them the maximum-allowed sentence of 71 months in prison, ordered them to pay back the $3.2 million, and fined them an amount equal to the pensions and vacation time they had accrued during their lengthy careers. Accountant Rachlin was given 27 months in prison and fined $10,000.

While the Lenn-Martinez case brought accolades to Galvin and his team, Amy Ashley's attempt to assist in the case resulted in a reprimand for improperly releasing information.

In March 1999, almost a year before the couple would flee, Halverson West, an agent with the IRS in Miami, contacted Ashley about a case his agency was investigating. Rachlin had been indicted in New York in 1997 for laundering money for two drug dealers. In the course of scouring Rachlin's books, IRS investigators found that he had handled almost $700,000 for Lenn and Martinez. West had met Ashley a year earlier during an operation that involved multiple agencies. When West learned that postal employees were involved, he called Ashley to verify their employment and find out Lenn's and Martinez's salaries.

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Wyatt Olson
Contact: Wyatt Olson