Feds probe stolen VA mail

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Marshall County and federal law enforcement officers are investigating what appears to be theft of medicine mailed by a Veterans Administration pharmacy to a patient who's a resident along a Petersburg mail route.

Sheriff Norman Dalton and Detective Sam Bragg explained the latest phase of the investigation pursued by Special Agent Gina M. Koivula of the Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Postal Service, that led to the search of the farmhouse at 1804 Brown Shop Road on Monday night.

"The search warrant pertained to the theft of mail," Sheriff Norman Dalton said in a prepared statement issued Tuesday morning, some 12 hours after Chancellor J.B. Cox signed the warrant. "It is not known whether charges will be brought ... by the Eastern U.S. District Court [in Chattanooga] or whether there will be state charges."

Bragg explained that the VA patient complained about not getting his proper medication.

"Apparently the Postal Service received complaints over time that things were missing from the mail, medicine being mailed to the VA patient," Bragg said.

"They got a box [of medicine that was to be mailed] and treated the box with clue spray. It's invisible but under fluorescent light, it fluoresces," the experienced detective said. "Apparently, they contacted the person who was to receive the package asking that he contact them when it was delivered.

When it was, "they inspected it and determined that it had been tampered with," Bragg continued. "It was found to have been opened and there was a substitution made."

Shortly thereafter, "They traffic stopped him," Bragg said of Michael Murdock, the letter carrier who delivers from the Post Office on the Petersburg public square. "After he was stopped and they identified themselves as federal agents... he and his vehicle ended up in Petersburg" at the Post Office.

The detective surmised from the circumstances that Murdock, owner of the 146-acre farm on Brown Shop Road, "was questioned and he and the vehicle were examined by the ultraviolet light.

"It was determined that he had the substance on him and in his vehicle, indicating that he had ... opened the package," Bragg said.

"He was glowing," the detective said.

Murdock declined to grant permission for a search of his house, Bragg said. As a result, the chancellor who serves this 17th Judicial District was contacted and asked to sign the warrant to search the home where Murdock lives with his wife, Margaret, and their children.

Knowing that a search of the house would be lengthy and having worked a previous shift, Bragg left, but did so with an awareness of the process that potentially faces Murdock who, as of mid-day Tuesday had not been charged.

The value of the medication could be a deciding factor on whether such a case is taken to a U.S. District Court, based in Chattanooga, or possibly conducted in Winchester, or whether state charges are pressed. Depending on where the package was opened, state charges could be filed in either Marshall or Lincoln counties circuit court.

Dalton reported that Special Agent Koivula led a team of six from the Inspector General's Office, and an inspector from the Veterans Affairs Office on Monday in Marshall County. Also assisting the federal officers were Petersburg Police Chief Larry Hardin, Petersburg Police Officer Alan Moorehead, Dalton, Bragg and Deputy Chad Bass.

The Murdock residence was reached by telephone late Tuesday morning. Margaret Murdock said she: was present during the search; knew Americans are innocent until proven guilty; preferred to let her husband speak to the press. He was not available at that time. Another call resulted in no contact.