The West Loop area in Chicago is considered one of the hottest neighborhoods on the edges of downtown, but a recent rash of burglaries at several apartments has residents alarmed.
"I was shocked," said Fred Stein, a condo owner and board member. "They were in and out very quickly. Clearing out the mailboxes and gone."
Surveillance video captured thieves entering Stein’s West Loop condo and taking off with mail and packages. Residents said what was even more shocking was the fact that there was no forced entry into the building--instead, what appears to be the use of a U.S. Postal Service master key to open the front door.
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West Loop residents are not alone.
Bucktown resident Nicole Ziolo’s condo building was hit early January.
"We had two thieves who entered the building who we suspect entered using the postal service access key," Ziolo said. "We saw them on the video turn the key to enter the front door."
Ziolo said the thieves went beyond the mailboxes in her building and into the garage area, where they stole an expensive baby carriage.
“This was a planned attack,” Ziolo said. “If these criminals have access to our building, they have access to all the buildings in this neighborhood.”
"I think it's terrible," said Guy Spinello the North Central Director of Associated Locksmiths of America. “No one wants to step forward because they know they have a serious problem and they don’t want to admit it.”
Spinello said the postal service has not done enough to secure the master postal keys and the old-fashioned keys can be copied from pictures found on the internet.
“There are safer keys out there,” Spinello indicated. Like the U.S. Postal collection box for example, typically seen out on streets, he said.
Spinello said these mail boxes are secured with high-tech locks and keys that are virtually impossible to duplicate but are more expensive than the U.S. Arrow master keys currently being used in apartment and condo buildings.
In early January, Chicago police arrested Aliyah Massari, 24, after a routine traffic patrol stop discovered Massari was driving on a suspended driver's license and a warrant for her arrest had been issued by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. According to the police report, a search of the vehicle found “burglary tools, large amounts of USPS mail and packages, 2 master postal keys, 2 postal mailbox keys and 5 sets of mailbox keys.”
Police determined the mail and packages came from two buildings located in the 1100 block of West Washington Blvd. and 1300 block of West Madison St. Massari was charged with two felony counts of burglary. She was released from police custody on an I-bond Jan. 10 and is due back in court Thursday.
NBC 5 Investigates reached out to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service with a number of questions requesting information on how many keys were missing, how many buildings were at risk and what happens when an employees’ key is used in a crime. The office declined the request for an interview, saying, “due to the protection of postal employees and the sensitive nature of postal keys we are not doing on camera interview at this time,” the emailed statement said. They did forward our questions to the Postal Service Communication Representative for the Chicago District, but NBC 5 Investigates has not heard back as of Monday evening.
NBC 5's Rob Stafford lives in one of the condo buildings that has been robbed using a master postal key.