When police in Providence, Rhode Island set up a sting operation to catch whoever was stealing coupon inserts from a newspaper distribution facility, they never expected this – the man they say they caught in the act, was one of their own.
49-year-old police officer Jesse Ferrell was taken into custody early Friday morning at a facility that distributes newspapers for the Providence Journal. Ferrell is accused of trying to enter the nondescript brick warehouse, where independent contractor Distribution Services of Rhode Island places circulars, ads and coupon inserts into copies of the Sunday paper.
Investigators say they got a call from the company about two weeks ago, to report that an unspecified amount of Sunday inserts had been going missing each week. So police began conducting surveillance on the building – and that’s where they allegedly saw Ferrell forcing open a door to get inside.
Ferrell was arrested on the spot and charged with larceny and breaking and entering. The 19-year veteran of the force was arraigned Friday evening and released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond. He’s been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the investigation. His next court date is in July.
Plenty of people have been caught and charged over the years with stealing coupon inserts out of newspaper racks or from stores. But it takes a bolder kind of thief to break into a newspaper distribution facility and take coupons by the bundle.
Two men in South Carolina were just convicted a few weeks ago of stealing coupon inserts from the Spartanburg Herald-Journal’s distribution center. David Griffin and Charles Tucker were accused of working in conjunction with a local couple, who sold the stolen coupons online.
Police in Providence have not said what they think Ferrell was doing with the coupons he’s accused of taking. But coupon industry insiders believe these kinds of thefts are happening across the country, to help feed online insert sellers’ increasingly voracious appetite for more and more coupons – and more and more profits. The larger sellers certainly aren’t obtaining their thousands of coupon inserts by paying for thousands of papers at the newsstand – especially since many of them are able to get inserts days, sometimes weeks, before they’re set to be delivered.
So obtaining inserts from someone willing to steal them right out from under newspaper companies’ noses is much more effective – and lucrative – than buying a few extra papers and selling the coupons for a small profit.
In the Spartanburg case, the couple accused of working with the coupon thieves apparently knew full well where their coupons were coming from. The female half of the husband-and-wife team was allegedly waiting right outside the distribution center for the thieves to deliver the coupons straight to her car (her husband, incidentally, also worked in law enforcement, as a detention officer with the sheriff’s department).
Other online coupon sellers might not know precisely how their “suppliers” obtained their coupons. They may consider it easier, and safer, not to ask questions. But if you buy coupons online, and you’re concerned about possibly aiding and abetting a crime – you might want to be the one asking some questions.
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