9 investigates illegal drugs being shipped through mail

It is a perfect day for a party. Chancellor Lee Adams is surrounded by family, church members, caregivers, teachers, classmates and friends to celebrate his 16th birthday.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Michelle Covington has been delivering mail to Charlotte residents since 1998.

In September 2012, while trying to deliver a package with an incomplete address at a Southpark Apartment complex, Tere Washington approached her and claimed he was related to the recipient.

"He offered me money to give him the package and I told him I definitely couldn't do that," Covington said.

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Covington had no clue that Washington wanted the package because it contained drugs.

"He got a little physical and wanted to take the package," she said.  "As we tussled, he tried to take it from me.  He ended up getting the package and I ended up with a busted lip."

Washington is now in a California prison. He pleaded guilty to assaulting Covington and stealing mail.

Countless criminals still use mail and shipping companies to move illegal drugs.

Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell told Eyewitness News it is a big problem there.

"We see a lot of marijuana, cocaine, crystal meth," Campbell said.

He said deputies work with authorities as far away as the west coast to stop narcotics shipments.

"Along with drugs, comes drug sales and with drug sales comes drug violence and gun violence," Campbell said.

"This kind of marijuana you see predominantly only see coming from the west coast," said an undercover investigator.

The investigator showed Channel 9 photos of drugs shipped to Iredell County.

He said legal marijuana in other states is adding to the problem.

In one case, someone sent 25 pounds of marijuana from California, disguised as a Christmas gift.

In another, $7,000 worth of crystal meth was sent in a food container.

Detectives said Takaaki Ishibashi from Japan shipped marijuana in sealed cans to storage units across four local counties.

He is now in prison.

Officers also found drug money hidden in a seat cushion during a different investigation.

"The chair seat actually contained $67,500," said the investigator.

Across the Charlotte area, Channel 9 has reported on arrests.

A real estate broker from York, James Michael Wiley, is serving four years in prison for shipping marijuana  from California to his home in York.

In March, Rowan County deputies arrested a mother and daughter for trafficking marijuana in the mail.

The crime is a serious issue the U.S. Postal Inspection Service doesn't take lightly.

"We've provided additional inspectors here within the last year to our narcotics investigations," said Tom Noyes, inspector in charge.

Noyes told Eyewitness News a dedicated team works solely on finding and stopping illegal drugs.

"Our main focus is to eradicate drugs from the mail and identify large drug organizations throughout the United States," said Noyes.

Covington still carries mail to Charlotte doors with a different sense of security.

"You thought, you're the postman or post lady called to Highway 80, Gallatin Street, so you're fine walking down the street.  Now, anything can happen," she said.

She's more cautious now about every delivery she makes.

Deputies said those drug packages are often shipped to vacant lots or empty houses so they can grab it and go unnoticed.

Federal investigators wouldn't share details of the tactics they use to find drugs in the mail because giving that away would give drug dealers an advantage.