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Routine Mail Delays To Rural Schools Could Have Masked Computer Theft Conspiracy

Ravn Air's terminal in Bethel. Ravn employees at the Anchorage airport are accused of stealing mail bound for rural Alaskan communities.
Dean Swope/KYUK

Bush Alaska shipping delays could have masked a multi-year alleged conspiracy to steal hundreds of Apple computers destined for rural schools. A federal grand jury indicted six former Ravn Air ramp agents on January 16 on mail theft and conspiracy charges for stealing the computers, along with other items. 

Court documents list at least 16 computers stolen over the two-year investigation before they could reach the Lower Yukon School District, but school officials didn’t know they were the victims of a conspiracy until last week.

“I was surprised as everybody else when I read it in the paper,” said Lower Yukon School District Superintendent Dr. Ron Picou.

Mail delays are so common that the missing computers didn’t raise suspicion. The school district simply contacted Apple and had other computers shipped out. “Just like any vendor, when you buy something, you don’t pay for it until it arrives,” Picou said.

Though the school district never lost money, students taking online classes lost valuable time.

“Anything that disrupts the functioning of the school district, it has a negative impact on kids,” Picou explained.

The Lower Yukon School District offers more than 100 online courses to students. Some are college classes; others are high school courses not offered at certain schools.

Another Yukon school district - St. Mary’s City School District - also had computers stolen during the alleged conspiracy. St. Mary’s Superintendent David Herbert did not returns calls or emails requesting comment on the incident.

Computers may have been stolen from the Kuspuk School District on the Upper Kuskokwim as well. Court documents say that the school district sits along the air freight and mail route that the alleged thieves looted from.

Kuspuk Assistant Superintendent Erich Kuball can’t confirm if their shipments were affected. He discovered the alleged thefts by reading an online article. The district has undergone a rapid turnover of Tech Directors, and shipping delays mean they’re often calling vendors.

Computers heading to the Bering Strait School District were also allegedly stolen. In all, $489,000 worth of merchandise, including 343 Apple computers, went missing during the investigation from March 2015 to April 2017.

Anna Rose MacArthur is the KYUK News Director. She has worked at KYUK since 2015 and previously worked at KNOM in Nome, Alaska.
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