MEN face possible prison time for destroying rural mailboxes

Sunday, May 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) _ Two Pushmataha County men who hurled rocks at mailboxes as they cruised home from work could be heading to federal prison for up to three years.

Warren Leo Ashley, 36, and Claude F. Cessna, 39, pleaded guilty last week to one count each of destruction of rural mailboxes. They could be fined up to $250,000 and get anything from probation to a three-year federal prison sentence.

``I hope this serves as a deterrent,'' said Rey Santiago, the U.S. postal inspector from Tulsa who investigated the repeated vandalism.

Federal officials say they never have dealt with a mailbox vandalism case in federal court.

``I think a lot of people would be shocked to find out you could be exposed to this kind of punishment,'' said Michael Abel, a federal public defender representing Cessna.

Ashley and Cessna drove to work from Antlers to Wilburton nearly every day in October 2000, documents say. On their way home, they apparently amused themselves by heaving rocks and oil field valve rings out the window at rural mailboxes.

``It's just ridiculous that people all through Pushmataha and Latimer counties had to worry about whether they would be able to get their mail every day,'' Santiago said.

Santiago keeps one of the rocks in his office. He also has a photograph taken by a rural victim that shows the men in a blue Camaro and a rock and mailbox flying through the air.

``It will hang on my wall for the rest of my career,'' Santiago said.

Cessna and Ashley will have a federal felony on their records for the rest of their lives. Neither man, Abel said, had a felony criminal history before this offense.

U.S. Attorney Shelly Sperling in Muskogee said most mailbox destruction cases stay in state court or are worked out in community service or by the vandals simply fixing the mailboxes. Most of those offenders, he noted, are juveniles.

``These were adults who should have known better,'' Sperling said.

The two men are scheduled to be sentenced sometime this summer. The public defender said he doubts the judge will give them the maximum punishment.

''`Without a significant criminal history, I can't imagine any way anyone is going to get up to the three-year sentence,'' Abel said.