SPRING HILL - Fred Drexler is proud of the fact he has faithfully paid his income taxes on time since he turned 18.
And this year, at the age of 70, it was no different. Drexler dutifully made out a check to the Internal Revenue Service to pay what he owed, which this time totaled $4,235, and sent it off in the mail to the prescribed address supplied by the IRS.
That task done for another year, Drexler wrote finis to the matter.
Or so he thought.
Thanks to an apparent mix-up by the U.S. Postal Service, Drexler soon found himself enmeshed in a sea of bureaucracy that forced him to seek help from U.S. Congressman Richard Nugent and which prompted an apology from a key postal official.
But even so, Drexler still faces possible IRS fines because of the snafu.
The same mix-up happened to five other people in the Spring Hill area, which prompted Drexler to issue a warning to his Hernando County neighbors: Be wary of sending important documents through the mail. It may be worth it to go the extra step to ensure the correspondence is protected.
It started March 25 when Drexler mailed his 2012 income tax form 1040-V to the IRS office in Charlotte, N.C. and used that agency's prepared envelope.
On May 3, about 40 days later, that same time-sensitive envelope was returned to Drexler, with a post office stamp saying: "Return to sender, not deliverable as addressed, unable to forward."
By then, Drexler had missed the IRS filing deadline of April 18 and the agency tacked on another $60 as a failure to pay penalty and interest charges.
"I did everything right. I did everything I was supposed to do," Drexler said. "Who would have thought it would be tied up in the post office for 40 days?"
Further investigation by Drexler found that three sources within the IRS and the postal service confirmed the address on the envelope as correct.
Drexler said he called his tax preparer Tammi Fernandez, a certified public accountant whose firm is off Deltona Boulevard, who verified five others in the area went through the same ordeal.
Drexler calls it a cover-up and doesn't buy the letter he received from Linda Racine, consumer affairs manager with the U.S. Postal Service Suncoast District office in Tampa.
Racine said Drexler mailed his envelope first-class, which doesn't provide for a detailed tracking system and is handled as ordinary mail through the system.
Racine blamed the problem on an automation process mix-up. Drexler's letter went through the Postal Automated Redirection System, which searches for a change of address to forward the mail piece, and because there was not one on file, it was endorsed as "return to sender" and unable to forward.
"The distribution system of the Postal Service is massive," Racine wrote. "Due to the volume of mail being processed during that busy period, processing and delivery delays were experienced.
"Regrettably, we are not in a position to provide compensation for any losses," Racine added. "Postal regulations restrict our liability to loss or damage claims for registered, insured C.O.D. mail and express mail."
Racine ended her letter to Drexler expressing her apologies.
"This unfortunate experience has increased our awareness of this problem and we will intensify our efforts to identify and eliminate the causes," she wrote.
Drexler said he could have spent more to certify his letter and take out insurance costs, "but why should I have to go through that?"
"First class mail is supposed to work," he said.
Nugent and his staff contacted the postal service on behalf of Drexler and he too received a letter from Racine expressing her regret.
"Due to the volume of mail the USPS processes during the busy tax season, customers could experience delay due to this (automated) process," she wrote.
The IRS finally cashed Drexler's check for $4,235. However, he is still on the line for the $60 in late fee.
Drexler is hoping that can be resolved. And he hopes the postal service clears up the problem with its automated processing system so he and others don't have to go through this again.
"I think there's a problem with their process that they are not addressing," he said.