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Two convicted coupon counterfeiters have failed in their attempt to wiggle out of the multi-million dollar restitution they’ve been ordered to pay. A Phoenix judge has ruled that 55-year-old Marilyn Johnson and 44-year-old Amiko Fountain are liable for up to $5 million each, just like their old boss, who they had argued should have been held responsible for the lion’s share of the penalty.

As you may recall, Johnson, Fountain and ringleader Robin Ramirez were arrested back in July 2012, and were subsequently convicted for selling tens of millions of dollars worth of counterfeit coupons online. As the brains behind the operation, 42-year-old Ramirez pleaded guilty last year to counterfeiting, fraud and illegal control of an enterprise, and was sentenced to two years in prison. Her assistants, Johnson and Fountain, each pleaded guilty to a single charge of counterfeiting, and were sentenced to probation. All were ordered to pay restitution to the companies whose coupons were counterfeited, “in an amount not to exceed $5 million,” the maximum amount a convicted counterfeiter can be ordered to pay under U.S. law.

But Johnson and Fountain later decided that wasn’t exactly fair – if the ringleader pleaded guilty to more crimes, and got the harsher penalty, shouldn’t she also have to pay a larger portion of the restitution?

That was their argument in court last Friday, but a judge didn’t buy it. “Their plea agreements did not limit their liability to just the counts for which they pled guilty,” Maricopa County Judge Rosa Mroz ruled. “They each agreed to pay up to $5 million dollars in restitution, rather than some far lesser amount that would have been associated with just the counts for which they pled guilty.”

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Furthermore, the judge rejected Johnson and Fountain’s argument that assets seized from Ramirez should be used to offset the amount of restitution the trio will owe. When police raided Ramirez’s home, seizing some $40 million worth of counterfeit coupons, they also confiscated items including cars, guns and a speedboat that were allegedly obtained using proceeds from her crimes. “The opulence and the money was the equivalent of drug cartel-type of stuff,” a police investigator said at the time.

“The Court does encourage the State to give the seized assets to the victims,” Judge Mroz suggested. But even if the companies whose coupons were counterfeited are given Ramirez’s cache of weapons and vehicles, those assets “cannot be used to offset the restitution owed by the Defendants.”

In the end, regardless of the value of assets seized, or who pleaded guilty to what crimes, Mroz determined that “Fountain, Johnson, and Ramirez are jointly and severally liable for the entire restitution amount when that amount is finally determined” – up to $15 million in total, divided three ways.

But the news wasn’t all bad for the defendants. There’s a chance they may end up owing far less than $15 million. Judge Mroz ruled that the burden is on the State, and the manufacturers, to prove exactly how much money they lost as a direct result of the women’s counterfeiting. Mroz noted that one victimized company, Smuckers, “is requesting restitution for all damages resulting from the counterfeit coupons it honored, even though it is unable to determine which counterfeit coupons Defendant Ramirez offered for sale.”

That’s not going to fly, the judge ruled. In determining how much the defendants ultimately owe, prosecutors must include only “damages incurred by the victims as a direct result of the Defendants’ actions, as opposed to the acts committed by other individuals.”

The date for a restitution hearing has not yet been set. Whatever the final amount the three women owe, prosecutors and manufacturers hope to prove one thing – counterfeiting can be awfully lucrative in the short term, but ultimately, coupon crime doesn’t pay.

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Convicted Coupon Counterfeiters Ordered to Pay Up to $15 Million

  2. Pingback: Couponing Cheat - Part Two

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