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A copy of a community mailbox master key that was found lodged in a Galt mailbox

The Galt post office is planning to replace locks on more than 1,500 communal mailboxes after a rash of mail thefts.

Galt Postmaster Ferdinand Lagat told the Herald that the post office had noticed thefts starting early in the year, with an uptick in March. However, the thefts have “died down a little bit now,” he said. He said someone had recently been arrested with mailbox keys from multiple area cities, including Galt, Elk Grove, Lodi and Stockton. He explained that each community has a different set of master keys.

“Unfortunately, what they’re doing is they’re stealing the locks and they’re trying to make copycat keys to it, and there’s some that are successfully getting in,” Lagat said, while others simply force the mailbox open.

The key-copy method is newer, according to Lagat, and harder to detect since it doesn’t obviously damage the mailbox. The post office has received security video from some customers showing mail thieves in the act.

Lagat said his office is in the process of replacing the compromised locks in Galt with more-secure ones. He estimated that that would mean re-keying more than 1,500 community mailboxes, a process that could last through the summer.

In the meantime, the U.S. Postal Service advises residents to pick up their mail daily. Lagat said the postal service will send out a letter to customers explaining the situation.

Additionally, the Galt Police Department recently arrested two people on charges of identity theft after finding apparently stolen mail and mailbox keys.

Galt police on April 8 arrested Randi Quarton and Celestino Ybarra after performing traffic stops on the two Galt residents. In their cars, officers reportedly found card readers and dozens of personally identifying items, like debit, credit and bank cards; ID cards; passports; and financial statements.

Police also found “several” community mailbox keys in Quarton’s car, according to a statement.

“Officers have identified over 160 victims as well as locating over 200 pieces of stolen mail,” the statement read.

Quarton and Ybarra were booked into Sacramento County Main Jail on multiple charges, including identity theft and possession of counterfeit checks; Ybarra also had an outstanding warrant, and Quarton was additionally charged with possession of methamphetamine and possession of burglary tools. They have since been released.

In an interview, Galt Police Department Capt. Richard Small declined to comment on Quarton and Ybarra’s involvement in the mail thefts, citing an ongoing investigation.

“There’s going to be some work for our detectives to try to connect cases to individuals because it might not be these two that were arrested that are responsible for every mail theft in the area,” Small said.

Small added that detectives are contacting the people whose mail was found to confirm whether the items were in fact stolen. The department is working with the district attorney’s office to develop a case.

Small encouraged locals to “(keep) an eye out in their community, and if they see something that appears to be suspicious, to give us a call, and let us come out and check on it.”

The police department’s nonemergency phone number is 209-366-7000. Lagat, the Galt postmaster, encouraged people who believe their mailbox has been broken into, or their mail has been stolen, to contact him at 209-745-6127 and report it to the Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455.