A former U.S. Postal Service worker who stole mail for painkillers and cash to support a long-term drug habit was sentenced to federal probation on Friday.

Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard C. Tallman of Seattle gave Tyler E. Blazina, 36, of Billings a break from prison but promised to lock him up for a long time if he violates release conditions.

Tallman heard the case after Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull removed himself.

Tallman imposed five years of probation with 10 months to be served in a pre-release center in Billings, and $324 restitution.

Blazina faced a guideline range of 10 months to 16 months in prison and a statutory maximum of five years and a maximum $250,000 fine.

Tallman agreed with the defense’s recommendation for probation even though Blazina has three drunken-driving convictions, a domestic-abuse conviction and a felony criminal endangerment conviction. Blazina was on state probation when he committed the federal crime and had failed two prior addiction treatment programs.

Tallman asked Blazina what is different now.

“I’m ready,” Blazina said. “I’m fed up with living like that. I’ve humiliated myself to the point where I can’t do this anymore. I’m sick of letting everybody down.”

Blazina is a familiar name at the Postal Service, where Tyler’s father, Ted Blazina, worked for 37 years and was the marketing manager before retiring in 2006. Ted Blazina’s brother recently retired from the Postal Service, and his wife’s job is ending this month with the agency’s staff reductions.

In a letter to the judge, Ted Blazina said he was devastated when he learned of his son’s thefts. “To say my family was humiliated by Ty’s behavior is an understatement,” he said.

But, he continued, his son hit rock bottom with the case, accepted responsibility and was working to stay sober and to change his life.

Defense attorney Vern Woodward recommended probation and submitted numerous letters of support from Blazina’s family, friends, his current employer, The Good Earth Market, and his former supervisor at the U.S. Postal Service.

But U.S. Attorney Jessica Fehr opposed any break from the guidelines, saying Blazina is no different from other defendants in similar situations. She recommended a 12-month sentence with six months in community or home confinement.

Blazina has a long criminal record and is on his best behavior when being supervised, she said. As for Blazina’s promise to turn his life around, Fehr said, “I do hope Mr. Blazina really means it this time.”

What made Blazina different, Tallman said, was strong support from family and friends and his success with his current treatment program. The judge said he would be “warehousing” Blazina with a prison sentence because it would not be long enough for Blazina to qualify for treatment.

Blazina pleaded guilty in February to theft of mail by a Postal Service employee. He said he had run out of cash and stole money and pills in the mail to feed his serious opiate addition.

Blazina estimated that he stole 100 pieces of mail during about two months starting in September 2010. Investigators confirmed at least 60 pieces of stolen mail.

An investigation by the Postal Service Office of Inspector General started after getting reports of missing parcels of prescription medication sent by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The packages arrived at the Billings Processing and Distribution Center but were not scanned after that point.

Investigators watching the center saw Blazina, whose job included sorting mail, put nine first-class letters and a small package into his pockets and socks, Fehr said.

When confronted, Blazina gave the officers the letters and package and an additional 14 letters and two parcels from his locker. The unopened packages appeared to contain pill bottles.

Contact Clair Johnson at cjohnson@billingsgazette.com or 657-1282.

Contact Clair Johnson at cjohnson@billingsgazette.com or 657-1282.

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