Monday, June 28, 2010

Theft of Mail

He would come by my office each morning to drop off the mail and talk football. Like many in Miami, where in 1985 football was the only sport, Danny was a diehard Dolphins fan. The team was coming off its most successful season since its back-to-back championships of the early ‘70’s. In 1984, after a 14-2 regular season highlighted by the record-setting play of second-year quarterback Dan Marino, the Dolphins swept through the playoffs before succumbing to the San Francisco 49ers and Joe Montana in Super Bowl XIX. The team and its fans approached the coming year with anticipation and enthusiasm and Danny, a stocky twenty-year old with an open disposition and infectious laugh, was caught up in the excitement of the city’s expectations. With Marino at the helm, the Dolphins were expected to be title contenders for many years to come.

I was not a Dolphins fan. Earlier that summer, after graduating law school, I had moved to Miami from New York and commenced working for a large downtown firm, waiting to hear whether I had passed the Florida Bar. I met Danny my first day at the firm. He was a part-time college student working in the firm’s mail room, charged with the morning’s gathering and distributing of mail. When he reached my office, he would always stay a few extra minutes to discuss the upcoming NFL season. Danny knew that I rooted for the hated Jets, yet he enjoyed chatting with a fellow sports enthusiast, and seemed to take particular pleasure in attempting to convert a sporting enemy.

As the start of the season approached, I perused the Dolphins’ schedule and found two games of particular interest: a Monday night October 14 affair against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a November 10 battle against my Jets. The firm at the time represented the Dolphins, and I was put in touch with Matt, a front office team employee who would provide me with quality seats. Matt advised that the tickets would be mailed to me at the firm in early September.

The weeks went by and I settled into my routine as a new working lawyer. Danny would continue to drop by to discuss the Dolphins’ prospects. I learned in early September that I had passed the Bar, and was sworn in later that month. The Dolphins dropped their opening game on the road to the Houston Oilers, but recovered to win their next three, setting up their Monday night showdown with the Steelers.

October 14 approached and I had not received my tickets. I called Matt, who assured me they had been mailed weeks ago. He suspected that the tickets had been stolen, a common enough occurrence that the team had postal agents at the stadium on game days to deal with confirmed instances of mail theft. Matt sent me replacement tickets and instructed me to speak with an usher if I found anyone in my seats. The usher would, in turn, contact one of the federal agents on premises.

On the day of the game, I arrived at the stadium and found several individuals in my seats. As instructed, I notified an usher. A few minutes later, several agents appeared, flashed their badges and asked us all to follow.

We were led to a windowless room in the innards of the stadium, where the agents questioned the seats’ occupants on the source of their tickets. Although I was out of earshot during much of the questioning, I could see one of the individuals become increasingly agitated. He was a muscular man in his mid-twenties, and he was clearly not happy.

During a break in the questioning, one of the agents came to me and explained what he had learned. The muscular man was dating the sister of someone who worked at the firm’s mail room. The agent asked me if I knew a “Danny,” and I responded that I did. Danny had apparently sold the tickets to the muscular man, never disclosing where he had gotten them

The muscular man was prepared to cooperate with the agents in setting up a buy of the tickets to the subsequent Jets game. He knew it would mean the end of his relationship with Danny’s sister, but he did not seem to care. The agents wanted to catch Danny red-handed, holding the stolen Jets tickets. They asked me not to say anything to anyone at the firm, and to act as if everything were normal.

I returned to my seats at the end of the first quarter. Although the game was close and the Dolphins won 24-20, I do not remember much of it. My mind was on what had just transpired, and what was yet to come.

Over the next several days, Danny maintained his usual routine. He continued to drop by my office with the mail, discussing the previous week’s game and the upcoming matchups. I tried to act as if nothing had happened, although I suspect that I did not approach our conversations with the usual enthusiasm.

About a week later, I received a call from an Assistant U.S. Attorney. Danny had been arrested when he attempted to sell the stolen Jets tickets to an undercover agent. He was charged with Theft of Mail, a violation of federal law and a felony. I was now free to disclose the situation to the partners at the firm, which I did, to their surprise and disappointment.

Much occurred over the next year. The Dolphins lost three of their next four games, but recovered to win their final seven and finish at 12-4, atop the AFC East. After edging out Cleveland in the AFC Division Playoff, they were soundly defeated by the underdog New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, one game short of the Super Bowl.

Patricia, my fiancée at the time, moved to Miami and we made plans to marry in New York in December of 1986. I left the firm in late November of that year to join a smaller firm where I spent the next seven years and eventually became partner.

I heard nothing further about Danny until I received a call from the Assistant U.S. Attorney in early December. Danny’s case was set for trial on the very day Patricia and I were scheduled to fly to New York for our wedding. He asked me to appear in court and testify. He promised to put me on the stand early, giving us sufficient time to make our flight.

When I arrived at the courthouse and met with the Assistant U.S. Attorney, he appeared worried. There was a glitch with Danny’s case, he said. Because the tickets had been delivered to the firm’s mailroom before they were stolen, Danny’s attorneys argued that they had ceased to be mail, and the Theft of Mail charges could not stand. The judge seemed to be considering this argument, and the Assistant U.S. Attorney was concerned that the case would be dismissed before it went to the jury.

As promised, I took the stand early that day. I was questioned by the Assistant U.S. Attorney on the circumstances of my purchase, the non-delivery of the tickets, and what I had seen when I arrived at the game. My testimony lasted perhaps a half hour. There was no cross-examination.

As I was leaving the courthouse during a break in the proceedings, Danny approached me. He apologized for his theft and extended his hand, which I took. I wished him luck, and meant it. I had no desire to see him go to prison.

Later that day, Patricia and I boarded a plane for New York, where we married a few days later. When we returned to Miami from our honeymoon, we went about our lives, she at the University of Miami, where she had enrolled in the MBA program, and I at my new firm. Every day brought new challenges, which we met hand-in-hand, with the hope of the newly-married.

I never learned what happened to Danny. I suspect that the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s worries were justified, and the case against him was dismissed. If that is indeed what happened, I hope he made the most of his opportunity. We do not always receive second chances in life.

Despite the heroics of Dan Marino, the Dolphins finished the 1986 season a disappointing 8-8, third in the AFC East, and out of the playoffs. They have never returned to the Super Bowl.


  1. I liked this a lot! Very interesting. :)

  2. This is a fascinating story. I could envision that if law enforcement really wanted Danny badly enough, they could have amended the charges to a different crime prior to trial under the US code (reindict him for something else that did not have an elements problem).

    However, since you testified at trial, that was not done. I would think collateral estoppel would prohibit them from going after him under a different charge in federal court after an acquittal.

    Though alternatively they could seek to file charges in state court under a different Florida statute. There's no double jeopardy/res judicata concerns between a state and federal prosecution. However, since you never heard anything after that, that probably did not take place. Hopefully he learned his lesson and never went down that road again.