Virginia woman managed to sell nearly $32 million in fake coupons.
- Lori Ann Villanueva Talens, 41, was sentenced to 12 years behind bars for selling almost $32M in counterfeit coupons.
- The fraudster designed the coupons at home and shipped them via the United States Postal Service.
- Talens used the money for home renovations and luxury vacations.
Lori Ann Villanueva Talens, 41, was convicted of selling nearly $32 million in fake coupons she designed and printed herself. The illegal money she amassed was used for home renovations and luxury vacations.
The Virginia woman shipped tens of thousands of counterfeit coupons to a network of more than 2,000 people. She lured customers using social media sites like Facebook and Telegram under the name “MasterChef,” as per Daily Mail.
Upon executing a warrant for Lori Ann and her husband Pacifico Talens, authorities discovered fake coupons worth $1 million in “every crevice” of their Virginia Beach home. Postal Inspector Jason Thomasson commented:
“There were coupons in every jacket pocket; they were stuffed in her vehicles.”
The “counterfeit coupon empire” victimized about 100 companies, including Coca-Cola, Ziploc, and Procter & Gamble.
The scheme hit paper products company Kimberly-Clark the hardest, with nearly $9 million.
During the investigation, the FBI discovered forged coupon designs for more than 13,000 different products on the 41-year-old’s computer. The agents found out Talens was responsible for $31,817,997 in losses.
According to prosecutors, the convict has “perfected the art” of fabricating coupons “virtually indistinguishable” from the real ones. Brian Dugan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office, said:
“Coupon fraud is not a harmless crime. Lori Ann Talens and her husband operated an audacious fraud scheme that stole more than $31 million directly from retailers and manufacturers.”
Lori Ann was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Following the court’s decision, Talens’ lawyer, Lawrence Woodward Jr., argued she should be given a lighter sentence. The attorney insisted that his client should be treated differently because she gave authorities information about the “rather murky world of counterfeit couponing.”
The FBI revealed that due to the woman’s marketing and design skills, she was able “to create a coupon for almost any grocery or drugstore product, and able to make it for whatever value off she wanted.” Inspector Thomason explained:
“She had coupons for $24.99 off a $25 box of diapers. And it would work. And you’d have people walking out the door with those diapers for almost nothing.”
Reportedly, Lori Ann would ship the fake coupons via the United States Postal Service. Her scheme was busted after a member of her secret network reported her to the Coupon Information Corporation, an agency dedicated to coupon integrity. The FBI got involved after the agency linked Talens to $125,000 in forged coupons that had traveled from stores to coupon clearinghouses.
FBI Special Agent Shannon Brill said:
“If the coupons are rejected, if they are counterfeit, then the retailer doesn’t get paid back for them. But that whole process takes a lot of time. By the time a coupon gets identified as being fraudulent or fake, that coupon has already been used who knows how many times.”
On September 14, Lori Ann pleaded guilty to mail fraud, wire fraud, and welfare fraud.
In a letter filed with the office of U.S. District Judge Rodrick C. Young, Talens wrote:
“I am deeply ashamed and embarrassed by the way I have acted.
I realize I have served as a terrible moral example on how to act responsibly for my three children. I will regret that the rest of my life.”
Apart from the coupon ploy, the mom-of-three also applied for benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid. Between November 2015 and February 2020, she got a total of $43,000.
She was given a 10-year-long sentence for welfare fraud, which she will serve at the same time she serves her original 12-year-long sentence.
Meanwhile, Pacifico Talens was sentenced to 87 months in prison.
Lori Ann’s husband was involved in shipping the illegal coupons to customers and “perform[ed] other administrative tasks at the direction of his wife.”
The prosecutor concluded:
“For Lori Ann’s expertise, motivation, and determination, this scheme could not have occurred… She deserves the lion’s share of the credit for its success, and… must receive the lion’s share of the punishment for the harm she has caused.”