For Alva Jackson, it all came undone with a Barnes and Noble gift card.
On Oct. 9, 2009, someone sent a $75 B&N gift card to a customer on Jackson's postal route in Arlington, Va. When the card didn't arrive, the intended recipient did a little digging and found that it had been redeemed on October 16 at a B&N store in Bowie, Md. The revelation triggered an internal investigation at the post office.
United States Postal Service Special Agent Gabriel Ortiz was assigned the case. He noted the gift card did not cover the entire purchase, and a credit card was used for the balance. The credit card belonged to Jackson, according to court documents. Further digging showed Jackson's postal route included the address to which the B&N card had originally been sent.
Jackson confessed she'd been stealing mail since approximately October 2008, beginning with a Macy's envelope sent to someone on her route, according to court documents:
"This piece of mail contained a $100.00 gift card. After that, JACKSON stole an average of 10 to 20 pieces of mail per week during the Christmas seasons. JACKSON estimated that during slower mail periods she stole less than 10 pieces a week."
In addition, Jackson confessed that she also stole and used gift cards for Target, Macy's, Best Buy, Walmart, various restaurants and other vendors, authorities said. Jackson noted that she focused on stealing mail which she believed contained gift cards, however, she often came across cash.
It's not clear how much cash Jackson came across. When authorities searched her home in Upper Marlboro, Md., they found 134 pieces of open mail, which Jackson identified as mail she had stolen, authorities said.
Jackson is charged with theft of mail by an employee of the U.S. Postal Service. It is a federal crime.
Fan, Follow and Text: Get the latest from NBCWashington.com anytime, anywhere. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Sign up for our e-mail newsletters and get breaking news delivered right to your mobile phone -- just text DCBREAKING to 622339 to sign up. (Message and data rates may apply.)