An ex-letter carrier from Willingboro faces up to 30 years in prison for palming mailed federal income tax refund checks worth nearly $450,000 in 2014.

Earl Champagne, 47, also faces a possible fine up to $500,000 for his guilty plea to one federal count of theft of U.S. Mail, and one count of theft of government money, according to the office of New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.

Each count carries identical penalites of up to 15 years and $250,000 in fines.

Champagne was assigned to a route in Pennsauken by the U.S. Postal Service from 1995 until November 2014. He admitted taking the mailings between March and July 2014, after being approached by two individuals who paid him $50 for each IRS check he retrieved, authorities said.

Champagne said that he lifted 72 checks, amounting to $442,776. He was told that they would be addressed, mostly, to recipients with "Spanish" surnames, and that they expected to be given the envelopes directly or find them in a designated mailbox.

Investigators characterize Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) as a common genre that results in annual losses for thte U.S.Treasury of more than $2,000,000,000.

Victims, who often live in Puerto Rico, become vulnerable through compromised personal information such as Social Security numbers and dates of birth.

Fraudsters complete 1040 forms using the stolen data, entering fabricated figures for wages, tax withholdings and related information, always manipulating them to guarantee a refund.

They submit directions to the Treasury Department for delivery, often bribing letter carriers, then deposit the checks in bank accounts that they control.