By David Hedges, Publisher
The Times Record-Roane County Reporter

A contract mail carrier who delivered mail between Spencer and Arnoldsburg and suspected of stealing gift cards from customers on her mail route was found not guilty in a jury trial last week.

Sonja Whipkey, 39, of Millstone was charged with two counts of fraud for using the cards at the local Walmart store. She was not charged with the theft of the cards.

Whipkey admitted she used the cards, but said they were given to her as gifts.

One was a $100 card purchased in North Carolina and included in a birthday card mailed to Amy Bryant Rush of Crummies Creek Road in Calhoun County. It was used at the store in September.

The other card, for $75, was mailed to Ted Black of Pup Run, in Roane County. It was purchased by Black's father in Tennessee, who allegedly mailed it to his son.

Both Rush and Elizabeth Black, Ted Black's widow, testified that they never received the cards and had not given them to anyone.

Whipkey said they were given to her by someone else in thank-you cards.

Whipkey said she received the two cards about a month apart, after they were left in the same mailbox on Crummies Creek Road.

The owner of that mailbox, Shirley Rush, and his girlfriend, Dixie Helmick, testified they had not left the cards and or seen anyone put anything in their mailbox.

Whipkey's attorney, Steven Mancini of Beckley, said his client was caught up in a squabble that had divided the Rush family.

In her testimony, Whipkey said she would not jeopardize her job as a contract mail carrier that paid $42,000 per year for two gift cards.

Whipkey claimed she had been set up and that a week after she was indicted by a Roane grand jury in January, a rock was thrown through her window with a note attached that read, "Sonja, I got your job. Denise and your mom are next."

Denise may have been a reference to Denise Pollack, who was postmaster at Arnoldsburg at the time. Pollack who now works at the Grantsville post office, testified that Whipkey was a good mail carrier and never caused any problems.

Roane County prosecutor Josh Downey said Whipkey's mom also worked as a mail carrier.

Downey said Whipkey's story did not add up for several reasons. He told jurors she was the only one who had access to both cards, since one was mailed to an address on a route in Roane County that came out of the Spencer post office and the other had been mailed to an address on a route in Calhoun County that came from the Arnoldsburg Post Office. Whipkey delivered both routes.

Downey said it was never made clear why Whipkey who was not related to the Rushes, would have been made a target in a family dispute that did not involve her.

After hearing two days of testimony from 15 different witnesses, the six-man, six-woman jury deliberated about 30 minutes before returning a not guilty verdict.

Whipkey, suspended from her job since October, remained off the job this week, Spencer postmaster Larry Huffman said.

He said a decision on her future as a mail carrier would be made by postal officials in Maryland who oversee contract routes.

Roane Circuit Judge Tom Evans presided over the two-day trial, which concluded last Wednesday.

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