An inspector with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service briefly exchanged smiles with Chimene Onyeri after taking the stand as Monday’s federal trial continued.
Onyeri is accused of orchestrating the 2015 assassination attempt of Travis County District Court Judge Julie Kocurek.
Dana Carter, an assistant inspector in charge for the Houston Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said he met Onyeri in 2013 while working undercover as a mail carrier.
Carter, who at the time was part of the postal division that looks into mail and identity theft and violent crimes, said he went undercover after getting a tip that an actual carrier was approached by someone asking them to participate in a fraud scheme with a large payout.
Carter said it’s not unheard of for mail carriers to be approached to do things they aren’t supposed to be doing. He said his role is to protect carriers from getting involved with someone who could put them and their fellow carriers in a bad position, such as one where the carriers no longer feel like they have a choice as to whether or not they want to engage in fraudulent activity.
His and Onyeri’s first interaction occurred in 2013 after Carter sent a text message with a single word: Mailman. Carter said, to his surprise, someone called him immediately. He said he didn’t record that initial conversation because he wasn’t expecting the tip to pan out but that during that phone conversation the individual seemed more interested in meeting in person.
Jurors heard audio of the first in-person exchange between Carter and Onyeri, where more details about why Onyeri was soliciting mail carriers was revealed.
“I got other mailmans, man, that work for me, and what I do, I spread them out,” Onyeri can be heard saying in the recording that was played for jurors. “You know what I’m saying?”
In the audio, Onyeri explains he expects to have mail sent to addresses for people who don’t live at those locations and needs someone to essentially intercept and deliver the mail to him instead.
When Carter questions what the mail contains, Onyeri insists, “it ain’t no drugs,” and then explains it involves taxes. Onyeri says he’ll pay Carter around $1,000 to $1,500 initially, but that the payout may be even higher depending on how many letters he receives.
When Onyeri says he has a shipment coming in Friday from another mailman, Carter said he began to realize the extent of the issue.
Before Carter testified, jurors heard from a Houston man who pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.
Taju-deen A. Dahniya, 39, said he was testifying in Monday’s federal trial under a plea agreement with the U.S. government, though the exact details regarding his plea deal have not been determined yet.
Dahniya said he first met Onyeri in 2012 through a mutual friend. Ultimately, Dahniya described Onyeri as someone who wanted to learn how to do tax returns using stolen identities.
He said he taught Onyeri fraudulent tax methods, including ways to create fake incomes using incorrect employer identification information on W-2 tax forms.
Dahniya said Onyeri ultimately paid him $1,000 for tax training, and that Onyeri supposedly told him after he filed some tax returns he would share the wealth. Dahniya recalled that he didn’t want to be paid anymore money and that Onyeri never paid him anything else.
The defense argued that there was no way for Dahniya to know whether or not Onyeri actually understood the information he was taught regarding the fraudulent tax returns.
Before the shooting at the center of the ongoing trial, Onyeri was wanted in Travis County for violating his probation in connection with a case in Kocurek’s courtroom.
Kocurek’s colleague, Travis County Magistrate Court Judge Leon Grizzard, also took the stand Monday to explain for the jury the criminal process surrounding that case.
Grizzard said nothing in particular about that case stuck out to him at the time. Looking at court documents from the case, Grizzard said Onyeri pleaded guilty in 2013 to fraudulent use or possession of identifying information, a second-degree felony.
He said Onyeri received three years of probation for that case. But, as KXAN reported after the shooting, prosecutors asked Onyeri be arrested for violating probation terms for a similar case out of Louisiana.
The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
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