Union Played

Last February, Lakewood restaurant manager Alexis Gaddy decided to do what a lot of people do: pay a bill with a money order. After all, they're safe. Trackable. So he stopped by the 7-Eleven on Garland Road, bought a Western Union order from an automated machine, dropped it in the mailbox outside and figured Capital One would have its payment in no time. Turns out, not quite, thanks to three people accused of lifting mail from at least three different Dallas locations last year.

The plan was simple enough. According to a late-2006 indictment charging Adam Carter, Sergio Castillo and Shawna Anderson-Valadez with conspiracy to possess and possession of stolen mail, the group filtered out checks and money orders, dissolved the inked-in names and amounts with chemicals and filled them back in with their own names and, occasionally, increased amounts. One of the accused, Anderson-Valadez, was arrested in Oregon last month. It's all proof that yes, mail was stolen and people were ripped off—something Gaddy says it's taken him almost a year to get across to Western Union and the bank that cashed the money order. He still hasn't been reimbursed.

Gaddy says he's been through a three-ring circus of customer-service representatives, bureaucracy and good old-fashioned runaround since he first said goodbye to the $240 he paid for the money order.

"I'm going to get reimbursed because I'm being so bloody persistent," says Gaddy, who first contacted Western Union when his credit card bill didn't reflect the payment he thought he'd made. That was in March 2006. When Western Union sent back its proof that the order had been cashed, Gaddy laughed at what he saw: His name had been changed to "B. Lynch," and the address modified to—where else?—Bishop Lynch High School. So it was off to the fraud department for Gaddy, who says he never received the fraud claim affidavit Western Union promised him in 90 days.

Undaunted, Gaddy left a message for "every single person" in the fraud personnel directory. The affidavit came in the mail the next week. Then, after Gaddy sent the affidavit back, a letter: Western Union had lost it; could he send another? That was in August. After hearing nothing from Western Union for months, a letter from the Department of Justice shows up in the mail: Gaddy's been named as a victim in its case against the mail-heisting Dallas trio.

Gaddy says he called Western Union and "beat them over the head" with the indictment. Western Union directed him to the bank that cashed the check: Wilshire State Bank, off Interstate 35 in Dallas. Persistent as ever, Gaddy spent early January calling, faxing and personally showing up at the bank. At this point, he says, it's just a matter of principle.

"I would have probably given up if Western Union hadn't screwed me around so bad," Gaddy admits.

Now all he can do is wait, either on Wilshire or Western Union. No court dates have been set, but a spokesman for Western Union says they're stepping up their investigation into Gaddy's money order, and none too soon. Next week, it'll be a year since Gaddy tried to pay that Capital One bill.

 
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