ATLANTA — Sixteen postal workers in Atlanta and the surrounding area accepted bribes to deliver packages of cocaine, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

In exchange for bribery payments, the postal workers provided special addresses on their routes where the drugs could be shipped and then intercepted the packages and delivered them to a person they believed was a drug trafficker using the postal system to ship multiple kilograms of cocaine at a time into the area, U.S. Attorney John Horn said.

But it was actually a sting operation: The supposed drug trafficker was working with law enforcement and the packages contained fake drugs.

“Postal employees are entrusted with a vital function in our communities. They often are visiting people’s homes and having personal interaction with our citizens,” Horn said. “The defendants in this case allegedly breached that critical trust by accepting work from somebody that they believed to be a drug dealer. For a simple few extra bucks in their pockets, they were willing to not only bring what they believed to be dangerous drugs into our communities, but they also jeopardized the safety of their co-workers and the residents they served.”

Some of the postal workers recruited others to join the trafficking scheme and got extra money for packages delivered by their recruits, Horn said.

Another man, who was not a postal worker, was also charged after prosecutors said he introduced some of the postal workers to the supposed drug trafficker and coordinated logistics of the plan in exchange for money.

The multiyear investigation developed after the FBI learned while pursuing other cases that dealers were using the postal system to move drugs and avoid law enforcement detection, Horn said.

The 16 postal workers and the other man were charged in three separate indictments that were unsealed Tuesday.

“While the vast majority of U.S. Postal Service personnel are hard-working and trustworthy individuals who are dedicated to delivering mail and would never consider engaging in criminal behavior, these charges reflect the select few who decided to betray the trust,” said Paul Bowman, special agent in charge of the Atlanta area office of the U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General.

The postal workers charged include 15 letter carriers and one clerk who worked for post offices in Atlanta, Decatur, Doraville, Marietta, Riverdale and Sandy Springs.

“There’s been an increased number of occurrences across the country where postal service carriers have been subjected to violence,” Horn said. “What you can imagine is that the intersection of drug activity with having a postal carrier out in the community is something that leads to just a potential for violence that’s really unacceptable.”