Fountain-Ramirez-Johnson

Three Phoenix women have been ordered to pay Procter & Gamble more than a million dollars in reimbursement, for selling counterfeit coupons for the company’s products. At the same time, another major manufacturer that sought reimbursement, will get nothing at all.

Judge Rosa Mroz handed down the ruling in Maricopa County Superior Court on Monday. 44-year-old Amiko Fountain, 55-year-old Marilyn Johnson and their onetime boss, 42-year-old Robin Ramirez, will have to come up with a grand total of $1,288,682 to cover P&G’s losses.

P&G was one of several companies victimized by the women’s counterfeit coupon scheme. For years, the trio sold high-quality fakes on the former SavvyShopperSite.com website. Among their offerings were coupons that promised free Pampers, Tide and other P&G products. Such coupons typically sold for a few dollars, while buyers more than made their money back by getting the high-value products for free.

And P&G was left footing the bill for the bogus offers.

It was only after routine audits of its third-party coupon processors, that P&G discovered the fakes that were making their way through the system, and that it was inadvertently paying for. As its losses related to the counterfeit coupons mounted, P&G’s sleuthing helped to bring an end to the whole operation. With the help of private investigators and the Coupon Information Corporation, P&G made undercover purchases from the website, and managed to identify the owners. The company then enlisted the help of Phoenix police, who raided ringleader Ramirez’s home in July 2012, arresting the three women and seizing some $40 million worth of counterfeit coupons.

As P&G Brand Protection Manager DeeJay Smith testified in the case on Friday, the company kept detailed records of its losses – right down to the $4,700 it spent to increase staffing for its customer service hotline, to handle an influx of consumer questions following the women’s well-publicized arrests. The rest of the company’s claimed losses were traced to sets of six particular coupons found in Ramirez’s home which, once seized, were never redeemed again – suggesting that SavvyShopperSite.com was the counterfeit coupons’ one and only point of origin.

For P&G, doing its homework paid off, to the tune of $1,288,682. The same cannot be said for Unilever, another company that testified in last week’s restitution hearing.

Unilever claimed losses from five particular counterfeit coupons found during the raid of Ramirez’s home. But Unilever, Judge Mroz noted, “did not know if the Defendants had actually distributed and sold these coupons, or whether other persons or entities also distributed and sold these same counterfeit coupons.” Therefore, she ruled, “the Court does not find that there is sufficient evidence supporting that Unilever’s losses resulted directly from the counterfeit coupons distributed and sold by Savvyshoppersite.com.”

So P&G gets its million-plus. And Unilever gets nothing.

As for Ramirez, Fountain and Johnson, they get a very big bill to pay. Despite Fountain and Johnson’s arguments that they should pay less than Ramirez, who masterminded the scheme, the judge disagreed, saying they should have thought of that before agreeing to plea deals that held them all equally liable. Responding to Johnson’s request to reconsider, Mroz said she “empathizes with Defendant Johnson’s plight as it does appear that she was not the mastermind of the Savvyshoppersite.com scam and did not benefit in the way that Defendant Ramirez did from the scam. However, the Court’s decision cannot be based on sympathy but on its reading of the language of the plea agreement.”

On the bright side, the nearly $1.3 million total restitution is far less than the maximum $5 million each that the women could have held liable for. And at least Fountain and Johnson aren’t behind bars, so they can get to work right away in paying off their huge debt. Ramirez, on the other hand, is 22 months into a 24-month prison sentence. She pleaded guilty last year to counterfeiting, fraud and illegal control of an enterprise, and was sentenced to two years with credit for time served. When she gets out, she’ll have a felony conviction on her record, which could make it difficult to find a well-paying job that can help make a dent in her portion of that $1.3 million.

So with the investigation, arrests, convictions, sentencings and now restitution all settled, it appears this case is finally closed. But as the industry well knows, it’s a good bet that the fight against counterfeit coupons will never end.

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