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Mitchell: Postal worker angry about prank gagged

Iran Bectmail carrier whose route is University Chicago campus recently delivered 79 packages 5625 S. University Phi DeltThetfraternity house. The

Iran Becton, a mail carrier whose route is on the University of Chicago campus, recently delivered 79 packages to 5625 S. University, a Phi Delta Theta fraternity house. The 79 packages were to be delivered to "Reggin Toggaf". Spelled backwards they reveal a racist and gay slur. Becton, who is black believes the post office should track down the culprits and hold them accountable. | Michael R. Schmidt~ For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 17, 2013 6:58AM

U.S. Postal carrier Iran Becton wants answers about who sent boxes bearing labels with a racist and a homophobic slur to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house on the campus of the University of Chicago.

Instead of answers, the U.S. Postal Service put Becton under a “gag order.’’

On May 29, Becton delivered 79 postal supply boxes to the fraternity house at 56th and University. It was the second time a bogus delivery of postal supplies had been sent to the fraternity house. The fraternity claims it was the target of the offensive prank.

But Becton was offended — not only by the racist and homophobic language — but by the waste of his time and misuse of postal supplies. He contacted me when it appeared the incident would be brushed off as a harmless “prank.”

When Becton went public, all hell broke loose.

University of Chicago alumni weighed in on Twitter and Facebook, some chastising the fraternity while others argued that the fraternity was an innocent victim of a crude joke.

The Chicago Maroon, the University of Chicago newspaper, reported on its website that the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house received a bomb threat on Thursday evening.

Julie Kenney, a spokesman for the Chicago Division, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, acknowledged that the postal service has advised Becton against talking to the media because he might be “jeopardizing the investigation.”

“He was not the intended target,” Kenney reiterated.

“We have advised him to wait until the investigation is over before speaking,” she said, adding that postal inspectors are still investigating.

“We can’t give a definite time. It takes some time to try to find out who mailed these. There is no return address,” Kenney said.

The order for the priority mail postal supplies was processed by Victory Packaging in Aurora.

“We have to get an IP address to find out who mailed it, and it is a lot more involved. The inspectors have already checked Victory Packaging and they don’t have a record. It was a fictitious name and address,” Kenney said.

“There’s a lot more to it than getting a name and address.”

Like the fake cop shows, recent stories about crimes committed via the mail make tracking these types of crimes look easy.

For instance, the arrest of a Texas woman for allegedly sending ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg came quickly.

The letters were postmarked from Shreveport, La., and were found during a routine screening. Shannon Rogers Guess Richardson originally called the FBI and told the agency her husband sent the letters.

Within a few weeks, Richardson was snagged and bagged.

Mack Julion, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Branch No. 1, said Becton’s case is an example of what letter carriers go through. He is disappointed that the U.S. Postal Service put a gag order on Becton.

“Far too often when our members have concerns, there is little investigation. Inspectors tell them it’s OK. That is just what they did here — no harm, no foul. It wasn’t intended for you,” he said.

Garrett Taliaferro, the Phi Delta Theta fraternity’s regional liaison to the national headquarters, told me there are “rumors” about where the racist mailings came from but “nothing has been substantiated.”

“We have no idea who would have done this,” he said.

“[If ] University of Chicago students are found to be responsible, the university will begin disciplinary processes in addition to any actions by the U.S. Post Office, said Jeremy Manier, news director at the University of Chicago.

Whoever sent the bogus packages also wasted U.S. Postal supplies and resources. Given the financial bind the post office finds itself, for that reason alone the so-called “prank” should be handled like a serious offense.

On Wednesday, the Phi Delta Theta chapter at the center of this controversy sent a letter to the president of the union representing Becton, according to Taliaferro.

Meanwhile, Becton isn’t being required to deliver mail to the fraternity house until the investigation is concluded.

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