Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Amnesty for post office scofflaws

Do you have any mail trays, tubs or pallets that belong to the US Postal Service? Now's the time to fess up.

By Giselle Smith Nov 17, 2011 2:40PM

Years ago, when I was leaving one job for another, I loaded some of my personal belongings into a sturdy white plastic box with cut-out handles on the sides. I didn’t think twice about using the U.S. Postal Service mail bin at the time -- but then, I didn’t realize that I could face up to three years in prison for taking it.


Now the Postal Service, which calls my box a "flat tub," wants it back, and -- for a limited time -- promises not to send me to prison, or charge me the $1,000 fine warned on the side of the box. Apparently I'm not the only person to find myself in possession of a flat tub -- or several.


The Postal Service has announced an amnesty period -- through Nov. 26 -- for anyone in possession of what is called "mail transport equipment," in small or large quantities.  People are "strongly encouraged" to return items such as mail trays, tubs and pallets, and "no questions will be asked," according to the PostalReporter News Blog.


Quoting David Williams, the post office's vice president of network operations, the PostalReporter said:


"The Postal Service spent nearly $50 million this past fiscal year to replace equipment that was never returned. This is a serious issue. We are in a financial crisis and simply cannot afford this type of unnecessary expense. The equipment is federal property and we want it back."

With each flat tub costing about $4, each pallet up to $20 and each letter tray $2.75, $50 million represents a lot of delivery equipment. Unfortunately that's only a tiny fraction of the $5.1 billion the U.S. Postal Service has lost in the past year, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. Post continues below.

While some people, like me, have one or two tubs holding books or papers, others have made a business out of recycling them. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service website lists several cautionary tales about individuals who have been prosecuted for misuse of postal equipment:

  • A man in Georgia was arrested for stealing and selling almost 10,000 pallets to a pallet-supply company that provided pallets to freight companies. The suspect made restitution of $10,129 to the Postal Service.
  • In Florida, the owner of a pallet company was arrested after selling more than 21,000 Postal Service pallets. He returned another 16,000 pallets, was sentenced to five months in prison, and he and his company were ordered to pay $419,206 in restitution.
  • An investigation in California is pending prosecution for a case in which about 7,500 pallets, worth more than $200,000, were found at a recycling company.

Postal Inspectors launched the Equipment Recovery Plan in 2008, and since then have recovered more than 200,000 pieces of postal equipment worth more than $4 million, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service reports.


After Nov. 26, Postal Inspectors will resume efforts to recover missing or stolen mail delivery equipment, and will prosecute offenders.


If you've grown attached to your mail tub, you can get a similar-sized Rubbermaid plastic bin -- with a lid -- at Target for $12.99. Cardboard moving boxes, from companies such as U-Haul, cost just $1.70 for a 16-by-12-by-12-inch box.


You can drop off small amounts of equipment at your local Post Office or a mail processing and distribution center, or arrange for the Postal Service to pick up large amounts of equipment or pallets by sending an email with the subject line "Equipment Pickup Request" to


If you know anyone hoarding or recycling Postal Service equipment, report it to the mail transport equipment recovery hotline (1-866-330-3404), or let the person know about the amnesty period and encourage them to do the right thing.


Who knows -- maybe we can save the Postal Service. I'll do my part -- if I can find that bin.


More on MSN Money:



Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.