How the Grinch stole Moffat County Christmas

The McClellan children are busy waiting and busing tables at their family's restaurant to save money to replace the Christmas gifts that were stolen from their post office box.

Their father, Bob McClellan, said he's been too upset until now to speak about the incident publicly.

"It would have been unfair to vent on the post office," McClellan said. "But I sure wanted to after watching my kids not have the Christmas they had worked so hard for."

It had been the children's goal to buy presents for everyone in the family, including grandma and grandpa, McClellan said.

The children worked through the busy hunting season and saved their money. Then they started ordering the presents from catalogs through the mail. But in the middle of December, McClellan began to notice that he wasn't receiving any mail. Since the restaurant constantly gets bills from utility companies and vendors, not to mention a ton of junk mail, McClellan began to suspect that someone was stealing his mail.

He told post office employees that he was concerned, but at that time, they told him to be patient because the office sometimes gets behind during the busy holiday season.

When the trend continued, McClellan tried to test his theory.

"I dug out some letters that were in the trash and put them back in my box," McClellan said. That night after work, he checked back and found that the decoy mail was gone.

While rifling through the trash at the post office, McClellan found a piece of wrapping paper that bore his children's grandparents' return address. The present inside the paper was gone.

He started putting the pieces together and realized that he and his family had not received any of the mail-order gifts that should have been arriving.

On Christmas morning, he broke the news to the family that there would be no gifts this year.

"The kids took it pretty well," McClellan said. "They got out the catalogs and showed each other what they had purchased. It was a heartfelt Christmas morning."

After Christmas, McClellan kept a close eye on his mailbox. Post office personnel offered to install a new lock.

"We advised Bob just to have the lock changed, but he wanted to catch the guy," said Greg Stiner, a supervisor at the Craig Post Office. "He offered to set up surveillance."

McClellan set up a video camera inside the box in hopes of getting footage of the thief.

On several occasions, the equipment just didn't work. Then one night, a vandal broke into several post office boxes, including McClellan's. The perpetrator destroyed McClellan's camera, too.

Stiner said since his No. 1 concern is the security of the mail, he would have preferred just to "change the lock and be done with it."

Local police and the federal Postal Inspection Service held off, Stiner said, because McClellan was determined to work the case himself.

McClellan said he insisted on the sting operation because he wanted to catch the thief in the act. He thought post office's insistence on changing the lock was an attempt to sweep the case under the rug.

The Postal Inspection Service never updated him on the investigation, and he's not sure they ever came to Craig, McClellan said.

"The Inspection Service didn't come down," Stiner said. "We make reports to them. They don't make reports to us."

"I was very frustrated," McClellan said. "I realized I was dealing with a government agency that didn't really care much."

"I understand his frustration," Stiner said. "I've been frustrated by the Inspection Service, too."

Craig Police are still investigating the incident, according to Lt. John Forgay, who said he didn't agree with McClellan's methods.

"I don't particularly think that's the right way to go about it," Forgay said.

After the vandalism incident, Stiner said enough.

The lock was changed and there's been no repeat of the thefts. Stiner said McClellan's case is unique since the post office boxes rarely pose problems.

Many more complaints are related to mail thefts from boxes at residences, Stiner said.

"This is the first incident I'm aware of in a long time," Stiner said.

McClellan suspects the perpetrator's motive was to take advantage of the family's restaurant: River Ridge Prime Rib & Lobster House. The thefts did cause considerable inconvenience to the restaurant. McClellan had to cancel numerous credit cards, and several bills went unpaid in December because they never arrived. But, the damage to the business is negligible compared to what was taken from his children, McClellan said.

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