The former postmaster in Emmonak has been charged with stealing more than $172,000 in cash from letters, packages and other mail.
A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted Sharon Andrews, accusing the ex-postmaster for the small Yukon River village with pocketing the money between May and October 2010.
Emmonak is a Yup'ik community of 755 people at the mouth of the Yukon. Nearly 500 miles from Anchorage, the village has no banks. Some people send cash by mail, said city manager Martin Billy Moore Sr.
Andrews took the cash in large sums from just nine pieces of mail, the charges say.
On Oct. 12, 2010, for example, she is accused of stealing $93,100 from "five letters, packages, bags or mail that were entrusted to her and came into her possession while being forwarded through the post office in Emmonak," according to the indictment.
The alleged theft follows the 2011 conviction of a former Emmonak tribal administrator, Kathleen Lamont, who pleaded guilty to embezzling roughly $100,000 from Chuloonawick Native Village. A bookkeeper who worked with her also was convicted of stealing about $22,000.
Moore said he was unaware of the charges against Andrews, who he said was trusted in the village.
Andrews ran a small side business selling pop, candy and other treats, he said, and appeared to stop working as postmaster more than a year ago.
"She was pretty well known by most everybody. When she was working in the post office, it seemed like nothing wrong, nothing going on," he said.
The post office is a lifeline for the village, Moore said. It's where people go for money orders and to pick up Social Security checks and goods from Anchorage stores.
"Nobody could live without it," he said.
The Andrews case isn't the first time a small-town Alaska postmaster has been accused of stealing.
Federal prosecutors filed charges in 2008 against seven postal officials in Bush communities across the state. The former postmasters for New Stuyahok and Selawik were each accused of stealing more than $10,000 and pleaded guilty in separate, unrelated cases to misappropriation of postal funds.
Andrews could not be reached for comment Friday.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service in Anchorage, Blessie Lochmann, did not answer questions Friday, including how long Andrews worked for the Postal Service and what prompted the investigation. Lochmann said a manager who oversees Emmonak was not available and said a reporter would have to file a Freedom of Information Act request to learn Andrews' salary.
William Connors, a trooper based in Emmonak, said he was not familiar with details of the investigation but recalled postal inspectors visiting the village to interview the postmaster.
Andrews faces four counts of mail theft by an officer or employee and four counts of misappropriation of postal funds, all felonies.