Bamboozled: Family fights for its daily mail

There’s plenty in life we take for granted: the stars shine at night, the sun comes up in the morning and the mail gets delivered on time.BB branding

But it hasn’t been that way for Cedar Grove resident Christine Basile.

For 18 months, Basile said she has not received regular bills or bank statements. Not even certified letters got to her home.

“My credit score has been affected because of late payments on my credit cards, and I was assessed late fees as a direct result of the post office’s incompetence, indifference and negligence,” Basile said. “Somehow my mail is mysteriously disappearing.”

Basile’s 18 months of requests for help haven’t gotten her anywhere, leading her to decide that either someone was stealing her mail or there’s something funny going on at the Cedar Grove post office.

And it’s a mystery that may never be solved.

The trouble started in March 2009, when Basile moved into the home. Her daughter, Regina De Coma, and son-in-law, Gerald, live with her, as do the De Comas’ two children — 4-year-old Vinny and 1-month-old Stella.

From the time they moved in, some mail was delivered, but sporadically, and certain types of letters seemed to never get through. Other letters they received were not for their address, but for a business in the town, and that business occasionally got mail addressed to Basile and the De Comas.

22111Most often, there were no deliveries at all.

“Something is wrong in there,” Regina De Coma said. “We just don’t know what it is.”

Basile and her daughter called and visited the post office many times, but neither the postal supervisor nor the postmaster had an answer — or a solution.

As a stopgap measure, the family tried several times to put their mail on hold. It would collect at the post office and the family would pick it up. That didn’t work either. Certain pieces of mail just never got there.

The Missing Mail

The problems were extensive and oftentimes inexplicable.

A certified letter from the Internal Revenue Service containing a large refund check was delivered to the wrong Cedar Grove address, even though the front of the envelope had the correct address for Basile. Instead of being correctly delivered, the check was returned to the IRS.

Basile had not received 18 months of bank statements — statements the bank confirmed were sent to the correct address.

“I have been forced to bank online even after having the bank send the same statement three times when I first realized that I hadn’t received my statement,” Basile said. “I finally asked for it to be delivered to my mother’s (Cedar Grove) address and it arrived there.”

The bank has mailed Basile her online password three times — the only way the institution will give an initial password — but she has never received it. Until she gets it, she can’t access the account online.

She did not receive a PSE&G bill or credit card bills in 18 months, and she said she was forced to establish online payments for those accounts.

She mailed a COBRA application for a continuation of health benefits via certified mail, return receipt requested. Basile said she never received the return receipt, but she learned the application reached its destination.

Basile applied by mail to become a notary public on Nov. 10, 2010. After hearing nothing, she said she called on Dec. 31, 2010 for the status of her application, and she was told her Notary Commission was sent on Dec. 2, 2010, to her proper address.

“After speaking with the postmaster to inform him that it was missing, it coincidentally appeared on Jan. 5, 2011 — over one month after it was mailed,” Basile said.

Basile sent a Dec. 30 certified letter to the postmaster detailing her complaints. Ironically, she never received a card confirming delivery and receipt.

A few days after she sent that letter, the family received about 30 pieces of mail in one day, but no pieces of mail thereafter, they said.

Getting Delivery

Cedar Grove Post Office supervisor Rami Mohareb said he is familiar with the family’s complaints, but he insisted the post office wasn’t doing anything wrong. He said the family’s mail has been on hold a few times, but the family still isn’t happy.

“I have no idea what else to do,” Mohareb said.

We then went to William Neira, Cedar Grove’s acting postmaster.

He said it was possible mail was being stolen from their home mailbox or that the mailbox was blocked by snow. (Their mailbox is not at street level, but attached to the house, and the front steps are clear of snow.)

Sure, someone could be stealing the mail. But if the mail had been on hold several times, why weren’t the pieces of mail — those confirmed by the family to have been sent by their billers — in the hold pile? That would mean those pieces — if stolen — disappeared before leaving the post office, or in another postal facility before reaching Cedar Grove.

We asked Neira: what should the family do?

“I don’t know. If it was me, 18 months worth of bills? That’s a toughie,” Neira said. “I don’t know how anyone can allow that to happen.”

Allow it to happen? The family has been trying to stop it from happening.

He said they could rent a post office box. Sure, they could, but if the mail wasn’t making it into the “hold” pile, how would it make into to the post office box?

He agreed to an alternate plan. The post office would count the pieces of mail that arrive for the family, and they would be delivered. The post office and the family, then, could compare notes and make sure all pieces are accounted for.

The family agreed.

We gave it a week and checked in for a report.

They received their first delivery Feb. 2.

They’ve got mail

“My mom got a tax form and I got a letter from my daughter’s doctor,” said Regina De Coma. “Thank God that got through because it said my daughter needs some important medical tests.”

We checked in again a week later. Basile received a bank statement — one from an institution that said it’s been sending statements all along.

“Right now, we seem happy,” De Coma said. “Things are coming in and we just hope it stays that way.”

We gave the post office another call, wondering why pieces of mail from senders that never got through before have suddenly appeared.

“I can’t explain it,” said supervisor Mohareb. “Whatever we used to do, we’re doing it right now. Nothing different was done.”

Bamboozled isn’t sure why things seem to be going right, either.

Maybe it’s because questions were asked, and it was known that someone on the outside was interested in the mystery. Maybe it’s a mystery the Postal Inspection Service can investigate.

In the meantime, we’re glad the family is getting their mail, and we hope it continues.

(And by the way, the De Comas’ 1-month-old baby? All the tests came back negative and she’s in good health.)