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Ex-probation officer sent to prison, mental health cited in stolen mail case

A former federal probation officer was sentenced to eight months in prison for possession of stolen mail. 

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A former federal probation officer was sentenced Tuesday, Aug. 29, to eight months in prison for possessing stolen mail.

Pamela Jean Shafer, 51, a.k.a. Pamela Jean Grooters, once convicted in a $210,000 credit-card scheme, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Janet Neff to serve three years on supervised release once her prison term ends.

Shafer will turn herself in at the direction of the U.S. Marshal’s Service or federal Bureau of Prisons.

She was earlier named in a six-count indictment alleging she impersonated federal officers, cashed counterfeit checks and possessed stolen mail. She pleaded guilty to possession of stolen mail with the other charges dropped.

Her attorney, Sara Riley Howard, said Shafer has battled mental illness, including major depressive disorder.

Shafer says she was over-prescribed pain medication from 2001 to 2003 after an injury that led to addiction and “drastic changes in her personality and behavior,” Howard said.

She has been hospitalized multiple times for mental-health treatment, her attorney said.

Shafer worked as a federal probation officer and as an investigator at the Federal Defender’s Office until 2001.

She was a married mother of two who earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and psychology at Calvin College and a master’s degree in counselor education and counseling psychology at Western Michigan University.

Her life took a “downward spiral” after an ankle injury playing softball and unrelated surgery led to heavy use of pain medications, the judge said.

Then, she started a counseling business with a friend.

The partner obtained loans and credit cards for the business after Shafer said she had secured a $1 million grant. Then, Shafer convinced her partner they were victims of identity fraud.

She told her partner not to open mail or bills from credit-card companies and she would provide them to the FBI, court records showed.

Instead, she opened credit-card accounts and drove her partner into bankruptcy. She also was found with 110 pieces of mail stolen from the Cascade Township area.

She avoided prison nine years ago in that case based, in part, on her mental health. Less than four years later, however, Neff revoked probation and sentenced Shafer to six months in prison.

She came to attention of police in February 2015 at Baymont Inn at 2873 Kraft Ave. SE.

Two days after checking in, she contacted the front desk, and said she couldn’t make checkout because she was a federal agent tied up in a court case. She asked the hotel clerk to secure her belongings, including a gun and vest, until she returned, records said.

Hotel workers could not find the gun but were concerned by documents and prescription bottles bearing names of many others. A worker called police.

A Kent County sheriff’s deputy said Schafer admitted to telling the clerk she was a federal officer but denied saying she had a gun in the room.

Police also found mail that included credit-card applications, tax documents and bank checks, in different names that appeared to be from the Cascade Township area, federal prosecutors said in court records.

Some of the mail – about 120 pieces, from about 50 mailboxes – had been reported stolen.

Shafer told authorities that she had rented a room for a young woman she was sponsoring in Alcoholics Anonymous. She told police she had never been in the hotel room, had no knowledge of the stolen mail and denied identifying herself to the hotel clerk as a federal agent.

Later, “Ms. Shafer admitted to stealing mail and collecting it but she reported that she does not remember opening specific pieces of mail and does not know why she stole the mail,” Howard, her attorney, wrote in court documents.

“Ms. Shafer also did not benefit in any way from taking the mail and believes she was hoarding paper as a symptom of her mental health distress at the time,” Howard said.

She said her client was remorseful. She is undergoing successful treatment and “improved tremendously” while complying with bond conditions.

A doctor determined Shafer would not have engaged in crime if “she was not acutely mentally ill at the time …,” court records showed.

Shafer was ordered to pay $6,552 in restitution for cashing bad checks on a closed account she once held with her ex-husband.

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