Lost: 325 Lbs. of Mail; Last Seen Dec.1 at USPS

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After months of trying to get answers from the U.S. Postal Service about a lost 7,500-piece mailing sent late last year, a direct mail advertising agency has posted a $1,000 reward for "information leading to the return" of the mailers.


Mitch Talenfeld, president of The Marketing and Design Team, a division of Custom Cuts Printing Inc., Fort Lauderdale, FL, announced the reward in an e-mail last month to 100 direct mailing industry and postal service executives, including postmaster general John E. Potter.


His company created the mailing for Stratford University, which has campuses in Tysons Corner, VA, and Woodbridge, VA. The school focuses on careers in information technology, hospitality, culinary arts and business administration. Liberty Mailing, a mailing house in Hialeah Gardens, FL, sent the mailing Nov. 28 and 29 and Dec. 1.


In his e-mail, Talenfeld said the mail pieces were last seen entering the Miami General Mail Facility, the main post office in Miami.


"After 14 days of not hearing from [the USPS], we began to get worried," Talenfeld wrote. "After weeks of calls, the customer service department at the Miami post office finally assured us that they were processed and haven't been thrown away. You can only imagine how relieved we were when we got the good news."


However, he continued, "It's now the middle of February, and our mail is still missing ... So if you, or anyone that you know, has seen our mailers, we are offering $1,000 for information leading to their return."


When Talenfeld realized there was a problem, he said he immediately provided the USPS with all mail-stream and processing documentation for its inspection.


"Additionally, we have been telephone verifying the mailing list and have found no discrepancies," he said. "The list is good. The mailing went out. But it wasn't delivered."


The trifolded mailing measured 8 1/2 inches by 5 1/2 inches and advertised the school's new master's degree program. Recipients could respond by mailing back a business reply card. The mailer also included a toll-free number and a Web site.


But Talenfeld said the university has not received a single response.


"I can't believe that something went out and got a zero response," he said. "That's impossible, especially with the targeted list from a reputable list firm we used."


The list company was American Student List, Mineola, NY. The school expected anywhere from 35 to 150 responses, leading to four to 15 enrollments and estimated tuition revenue of $60,000 to $300,000.


The mailing cost $8,500, including $1,400 in postage.


Cathy Liberto, president of Liberty Mailing, said her company has not yet asked for a refund.


"We haven't tried to get the money back, because we didn't think anything would have come from filling out the paperwork," she said. "We'd have to prove that the postal service ... did not deliver it, and that would be hard to do, because they could say, 'Here's our stamp. We know we took it in. Maybe it was a bad promotion.' But you don't send out that many to such a good list and get nothing."


Talenfeld thinks the problem could be related to the anthrax attacks that closed the Brentwood postal facility in Washington, DC, and caused significant disruption to mail service in the Washington area. All the pieces went to people in Washington, northern Virginia and Maryland.


Stratford University is not the only customer experiencing problems with mailings to the Washington. Many letters sent last fall to residents and businesses in the area are just now being delivered.


"By the end of [February], I can say with certainty that we will be caught up with the backlog of Brentwood mail with the exception of packages," said USPS spokeswoman Kristin Krathwohl.


Postal officials said they received 81 regional delayed-mail complaints from Jan. 26 to Feb. 22, up from the 57 for the same period last year.


"What I didn't understand," Talenfeld said, "was how three separate drops of mail on three different days could all get lost in the system. I assumed that they had been intercepted along the way and detained somewhere because of the anthrax scare. The problem was that I got virtually no cooperation from the [postal service]. I haven't heard anything from the post office at all. Nobody seemed to care. Sure, they said the right words, but nobody cared enough to follow through and give me solid answers."


USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said customer service representatives in Miami are looking into the problem.


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