Charles P. Barrett & The Postmaster Conspiracy

In 1894, Charles P. Barrett was at the center of what was known as the Postmaster Conspiracy. A well-to-do attorney from Spartanburg, South Carolina, ingeniously used the mails and his political position to defraud the U.S. government and rob merchants and business houses in all parts of the country.

The Crime

Charles P. Barrett was an incredibly clever and well-known attorney in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He was appointed the chief clerk position in the Office of the Attorney General in Washington and then began to use his position to defraud the government and businesses. Once in office, he helped influence the appointments of postmasters, usually close friends of his, where there were essentially no post offices. These appointed postmasters then used their positions to defraud the government by falsifying the quarterly returns of cancellation of postage stamps.

One less successful scheme was to swindle private individuals and businesses by obtaining items through fraudulent use of the mails. In 1894, when the Fourth Assistant Postmaster General gave his account for the fiscal year, Barrett's schemes came to light.

Arrest and Punishment

Postal Inspector Fred Peer cracked the conspiracy in August 1894 when Barrett wrote a letter to the Hon. John L. Thomas pertaining to his own grievances. Instead of stamping the envelop, he wrote "Post Office Department, Official Business, Free." Barrett was arrested on September 3, `1894, and sentenced to 18 months in prison in December 1894.

Barrett appealed the case, which was sent to a lower circuit court. He was released on bond and for three years was still at liberty. Finally, in 1898, Barrett's case was re-evaluated, and he was sent to the penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio, to service his 18-month sentence for defrauding the U.S. government. In May 1899, Charles P. Barrett received a pardon from President William McKinley and was released.


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