The FBI has released details about a $31.8 million counterfeit coupon scheme perpetrated by a Virginia couple who will now spend close to 20 years combined behind bars.
Last month, 41-year-old Lori Ann Talens was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Her husband, Pacifico Talens, Jr., 43, was sentenced in August to seven years.
Together, they ran a counterfeit coupon fraud scheme that cost retailers and manufacturers close to $32 million in losses. It was one of the biggest schemes of its sort ever to be discovered in the U.S.
Between 2017 and 2020, Lori Ann Talens operated a scheme across social media sites in which she identified groups of coupon enthusiasts and sold them fake coupons.
Lori Ann had a background in marketing and graphic design skills that made her fake coupons look virtually indistinguishable from authentic ones. She ran the scheme from her Virginia Beach home under the name "MasterChef." Her counterfeit coupons often allowed customers to purchase items at significantly reduced cost.
Last week, the FBI said in a release that officials who had gained a search warrant found fake coupons in "every crevice" of the couple's home. What the bureau found totaled more than $1 million worth of coupons. The agents also found designs on Talen's computer that allowed her to create fake coupons for more than 13,000 products.
"There were coupons in every jacket pocket; they were stuffed in her vehicles," said Inspector Jason Thomasson with the U.S. Postal Service, who had been tipped off that it was the Va. couple behind the scheme. "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," said Thomasson.
Another agent said that Talens had taught herself to manipulate the barcodes needed to make the coupons work. Over the three-year period, Talens was paid close to $400,000 from members of her counterfeit group. She used the profits to pay for luxury items, vacations, home renovations and restaurant bills.
Lori Ann's husband, Pacifico, was aware of her counterfeit operation, profited from it, and helped his wife with it by shipping packages of the fake coupons and assisting the business in other ways. He pleaded guilty to mail fraud in April.
In addition to the coupons, Lori Ann was also defrauding Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - more commonly known as food stamps. She pleaded guilty to wire fraud and health care fraud and has been ordered to pay $31.8 million in restitution to the retailers and manufacturers who bore the losses of her fraudulent scheme.