Audit reveals problems at Sandston mail facility

Published: Oct. 27, 2011 at 6:44 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 29, 2011 at 4:52 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – A four month NBC12 investigation has uncovered major problems with the US Postal Service in central Virginia. A local postal worker is blowing the whistle and a scathing audit reveal the issues with your mail delivery.

NBC12 started getting calls and e-mails from many of you in June. The message was clear: There's something seriously wrong with mail delivery in Richmond.

Four months later, we have your first look at what was going on with your mail.

"It's just something you took for granted in this country," said Judy Anderson.

Rain, sleet or snow; you expect it. So did Richmonder, Judy Anderson.

"I ordered an item online from Utah," said Anderson.

That item never arrived. Anderson tracked the package to the Sandston Processing Plant. Her item went inside the building, and never came out.

"We subscribe to New Yorker Magazine. I've gotten five New Yorkers at one time, not having gotten any in the past month," said Anderson.

Netflix usually takes three days, but Anderson says she's waited two or three weeks for a delivery.

"What's happening out there? The distribution center? Are things stashed in corners or under piles?" Anderson asked.

Anderson wasn't far off.

According to a long time postal worker, who asked us to conceal their identity, postal customers in Central Virginia were getting bad service.

"What's going on here, especially in this district, they need to take the service out of postal service," the worker said.

The employee told us, managers were wasting time and money. They said mail was being delayed; there were hold-ups at the processing plant in Sandston. They said customers were complaining and cuts to mail routes were leaving postal workers making deliveries well after dark, even at 8 or 9 p.m.

"It's a safety hazard," the worker said. "When you get into certain areas, I've been in certain areas where there's gunfire going on."

Back in June, the worker told NBC12 the office of the Inspector General sent a team to investigate the mismanagement and mail delivery problems.

"The mail is declining and there's less mail," the worker said. "And why is the mail service worse and people getting their mail late?"

It took some digging, but we uncovered the results of that investigation, an audit that pegs the postal problems squarely on the Sandston plant. That facility was delaying more of your mail than any other plant of its size in the country.

In 2010, 156 million pieces of mail were not delivered on time. Images from inside the plant show delayed mail sitting in a staging area back in June of this year.

Another picture from March 9 shows standard mail in a basket. That mail was two weeks old and still hadn't left the post office.

There's more. Newspapers printed in May, still stuck at the Sandston plant in June, undelivered.

There's even mail with the wrong color coding, a human error that causes it to be undeliverable.

Every bit of your mail goes through the doors of the Sandston plant. In 2010, the plant processed 1.2 billion pieces of mail, delivering to nearly two million homes in Central Virginia.

The Sandston plant opened in 2009, soon after the Charlottesville plant was closed and consolidated into the Sandston facility.

The audit blames understaffing, poor supervision, mistakes in color coding your mail, and too much wasted time running the machinery.

Since July, NBC12 has been asking for a tour of the Sandston plant, but were told two and half months later that headquarters will not allow our cameras inside.

However, the new plant manager did agree to an on camera interview.

Isaac Cronkhite was hired in June, brought in specifically to turn the Sandston plant around.

"We are making improvements every single day," Cronkhite said. "The mail is extremely important to us."

Cronkhite says he's fixed the same delayed mail problems at two other plants in the country. He says changes are being made here in central Virginia and that you should notice a difference soon.

A follow-up to this investigation will air Tuesday, November 1 in our 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. newscasts. We'll hear more from the Sandston plant manager, Isaac Cronkhite.

If you have a specific complaint or issue you would like addressed with mail delivery in central Virginia, you can call 1-800-ASK-USPS. That line is staffed Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

To see the entire audit, visit:

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