A U.S. Postal Service worker was delivering mail in upstate New York one Saturday morning when three people who had been expecting a special delivery approached her.
She had delivered several packages to one of their homes in Rochester in the preceding days, including four earlier that morning. But none contained what Mark Rogers, Joseph Way and Tashara Levans had been waiting for — $70,000 worth of cocaine, federal prosecutor Robert Marangola said during a February 2020 court hearing.
As the postal worker stepped off a porch, the trio accused her of stealing it. When the carrier denied taking their drugs, they forced her to go back to her mail truck, court records state. One of them ransacked the vehicle in a fruitless attempt to find the missing cocaine.
“When they did not find it there, they then told her she was coming with them,” Marangola said.
They loaded her into Levans’s white 2015 Infiniti SUV. So began a 2½-hour kidnapping in which, according to court records, Rogers, Way and Levans threatened to kill the mail carrier, her children and her mother.
All three suspects were arrested and charged for what happened the morning of Nov. 16, 2019. On Tuesday, more than two years later, they each pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping. None of their lawyers responded to requests for comment from The Washington Post on Wednesday night.
After Rogers, 38; Way, 36; and Levans, 37, forced the mail carrier into Levans’s SUV, they drove her to the post office parking lot where she’d left her personal vehicle, court records state. Having taken the keys, Rogers drove the carrier’s SUV to another location, where they searched it but found no cocaine. Then they kept driving the postal worker around in Levans’s vehicle.
Next stop: the mail carrier’s house. They knew where she lived because they’d stolen the driver’s license out of her wallet, Marangola said. As they drove down her street, Rogers asked if she had a home-surveillance system. Yes, she told them, prompting Rogers to order her to call her 14-year-old son, who was at home.
The carrier “was pleading and begging with them to leave her children out of it and told them she did not have the package,” Marangola said. “They told her they were going to shoot her.”
“She told them go ahead and shoot her,” he added.
Still, the carrier called her son, asking him to come out to the SUV. But, the prosecutor said, he sensed “fear and terror” in his mother’s voice. When he asked if everything was OK, she pretended it was. She hung up and waited for him to emerge.
Levans, who was dating Rogers at the time, chimed in: The boy sounded scared and might call the police, court records state. So the mail carrier called him back. He didn’t need to come out, his mother told him, just go back into the house and lock the doors.
They left and kept trying to get the postal worker to tell them where the drugs were, according to federal prosecutors. They mentioned a gun and called someone to ask how much it would cost to have the carrier killed, court records state. One of the kidnappers FaceTimed their cocaine supplier, records add, and held up the phone so the person on the other end of the line could see the carrier’s face. This is the woman who stole “our package,” the kidnapper allegedly said, adding, “We’re going to kill her.”
They didn’t. Instead, Levans stopped the SUV so Rogers and Way could get out and talk about what to do next, according to court documents.
That’s when the mail carrier had an idea. Although her abductors had taken her phone, she was still wearing her smartwatch. Using it, she sent texts to her supervisor and a friend who was an officer with the Rochester Police Department.
The men got back in the SUV and Levans kept driving until, finally, they decided to free the carrier. But before they did, they told her that their cocaine supplier knew who she was, took pictures of photos she had of her kids, and had her write down her mother’s address and names of the schools her children attended, according to court documents.
“And they told her that if anything happened to them … she would never have another Christmas with her kids or her mother again,” Marangola said.
Then, they dropped her off at her SUV and let her drive away.
But the mail carrier’s text messages had alerted police. Officers swarmed the area and within minutes, police pulled over Levans’s SUV. Eventually, all three of the defendants were arrested.
Levans, Rogers and Way could be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison, although federal guidelines call for shorter terms between 9 and 28 years. Sentencing is scheduled for April 11.