An undercover mail carrier described Chimene Onyeri as “calm” and “comfortable” when the two met for the first time in May 2013 and discussed the prospect of the U.S. Postal Service worker providing addresses where checks could be mailed as part of an illegal tax fraud operation.
During Tuesday’s testimony in the federal trial of Onyeri, jurors heard snippets of audio from the time Onyeri met the mailman in May 2013 and as they talked on and off through early 2014.
In an audio recording from March 2014, the undercover mailman talks about how raising children isn’t easy, to which Onyeri responds “unless you a stone-cold criminal like me.”
Onyeri is accused of orchestrating the 2015 assassination attempt of Travis County District Court Judge Julie Kocurek. 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.
While testifying on Tuesday, Dana Carter, an assistant inspector in charge for the Houston Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, recalled how he was surprised by the amount of information Onyeri was willing to divulge, despite having just met him on May 31, 2013.
Carter, who worked within a different division of the postal service at the time, said that led him to believe that Onyeri was “comfortable” with what he was doing. In one of the audio recordings, Onyeri said he’s been “f—ing with mailmans” since 2007.
Carter recalled how, when he was posing as a mailman, he initially felt like he became more valuable to Onyeri after he told him he could provide multiple addresses where checks could be mailed as part of an illegal tax fraud operation.
That same day they met, Carter called Onyeri back and provided him with a Houston address, along with 30 random apartment numbers. In an audio recording, jurors heard Carter tell Onyeri that he tried to mix up the apartment numbers so they were random, instead of just apartments one through 30, to which Onyeri replies, “You did the right thing, man.”
Carter can be heard telling Onyeri that the Houston address he provided was an “old folks community,” so it should be “low key,” and essentially easier to intercept mail that is sent to that location.
On June 4, 2013, five days after their first meeting, Carter calls Onyeri to see if there has been any movement with the addresses he provided. He calls again on Aug. 12, 2013, telling Onyeri that he owes him money. That day, Carter said he gave Onyeri the opportunity to either pay him or back out.
Carter said there is a fine line between providing too much pressure and not enough pressure, but ultimately he called Onyeri because he needed to maintain the relationship as part of the investigation.
The two talked on and off over the next year, but Onyeri never paid Carter any money. Carter said a U.S. attorney decided not to move forward with prosecution.
“I stopped communicating with him, quite frankly, because he was continuing to describe an elaborate scheme that was not coming to fruition,” Carter testified.
After Carter’s testimony, jurors heard from three mailmen who allegedly accepted bribes from a group of individuals in exchange for either providing addresses or intercepting mail sometime around 2012 and 2013.
One of the mailmen said Onyeri paid him about $900 over the course of a couple of months after he intercepted mail. That mailman said he eventually stopped because he “expected more money and it just — it wasn’t worth it to me.”
Another mailman said he stopped engaging because he eventually got “uncomfortable,” and a third said he made a “bad decision” and “didn’t know the severity” of the consequences of bribery.
All three men, who have pleaded guilty to bribery charges, testified under agreements with the U.S. government. The defense questioned whether or not the mailmen would be compelled to testify a certain way in an effort to receive a lighter recommended sentence. However, it is ultimately up to a judge to decide. The maximum punishment for those bribery charges is 15 years in prison.
Two law enforcement officers with the Houston Police Department also discussed their roles during separate traffic stops, one in which an associate of Onyeri was stopped and the other one where both of them were stopped.
During the first stop in 2012, officers say they found envelopes with other individual’s credit cards in them. A vehicle search during the second stop, in 2013, showed there were five IRS checks in the glove department for other individuals.
Finally, jurors heard from a woman who worked in management at a bank in Bryan. The woman said she was approached by an acquaintance who introduced her to Onyeri in 2013, and the men inquired about what kind of IDs were needed to open bank accounts.
After she opened the first account for them, she said Onyeri paid her $500 in cash. She said it was her understanding that the checks were illegal.
Testimony continues at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
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