A former postal worker has pleaded guilty to stealing income tax refund checks worth more than $400,000 from people along his New Jersey mail route.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman says Willingboro resident Earl Champagne pleaded guilty Friday to theft of U.S. mail and theft of government money.

Champagne delivered mail in Pennsauken. Prosecutors say he admitted stealing 72 U.S. Department of the Treasury checks totaling $443,000 and giving them to other people, who weren't named in court documents. Fishman says those people paid Champagne $50 per stolen check in 2014.

Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. Sentencing is Aug. 3.

Champagne's lawyer, Michael Riley, says he's a family man who worked hard for the postal service for nearly 20 years. He calls Champagne's actions "a shame."