Camera captures envelopes being removed from church's mailbox

Westside church pastor says thousands of dollars in checks cashed at 3 banks

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A surveillance camera captured people taking mail out of a Westside church's mailbox, the pastor said.

Chris Pruitt, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church on Collins Road,  told News4Jax that he put up the camera after noticing missing mail and bills not making it to their destination.

"It makes you feel violated," he said. "If people are taking our money, we can’t give the money to those who truly need it and that’s the hardest part about it. We can’t give back if we don’t have it."

Video shows two people in a vehicle taking mail out of the mailbox. Pruitt said he caught them on camera twice. He also said this has happened multiple times before he put up a camera and thousands of dollars in checks were cashed at three area banks. Fortunately, Pruitt said, the church got its money back from the bank.

The pastor said he called police, and he’s hoping someone will recognize the people seen in the footage and turn them in.

"More than anything I would like to show him the love of Christ for one, but to pay it back and to warn others this is going on," Pruitt said.

Since catching the two on camera, Pruitt put up a new mailbox, which is exactly what News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson encourages any type of business to do.

"You’ve got to get a box that locks, that only the mail carrier can open or a slot that can be slid into a door," Jefferson said. 

Tampering with mail is a federal offense and someone charged could face up to five years in federal prison and hefty fines. But Jefferson said it is difficult for police to catch people who do this.

"Unless you stand there and monitor it, the cameras won’t stop them from stealing it," he said.  

In June, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office released a photo of a man and a woman in a vehicle, who deputies said they believed were connected to a theft from a church in Northeast Florida. Investigators said several checks were stolen from the mailbox of the church on April 26.

Jefferson said when it comes to putting money in a mailbox, it’s best to avoid it. He said never put cash in. If you are paying bills, according to Jefferson, instead of writing checks, try to pay over the phone or electronically.

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