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JCP Thomas Tang

A New York mailman convicted of pilfering JCPenney coupons from the dead-letter bin and selling them on eBay is now turning the tables on his accusers – suing the police who arrested him, and JCPenney itself, for a cool $25 million.

That could make his arrest a whole lot more lucrative than the crime for which he was convicted.

41-year-old Thomas Tang’s story began back in 2009. That’s when the mail carrier from Baldwin, New York began taking JCPenney coupons that his post office had marked as undeliverable. He admitted taking the direct-mail coupons, reasoning that they were going to be thrown out anyway, and selling them on eBay.

This went on for more than a year. By the time police showed up at his door to arrest him in January 2011, they say Tang had taken some 7,000 coupons and made about $35,000 by auctioning them off.

Tang ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of petit larceny, and was sentenced to three years probation. He was also ordered to pay $28,000 in restitution to JCPenney.

But now Tang wants his accusers to pay. As first reported by the New York Post this week, Tang has now filed a lawsuit against JCPenney, the Nassau County Police Department, and the officers who arrested him. He’s accusing them of false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process and forcing him to pay illegal restitution. For his troubles, he would like $25 million, plus punitive damages and attorney fees.

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At the time of Tang’s arrest, police said they were tipped off by the local postal inspector and JCPenney loss prevention officials. Tang’s lawsuit accuses JCPenney of overstating the case against him. JCPenney “falsely stated that (Tang) engaged in a scheme to steal JCP discount coupons out of the mail,” the lawsuit reads, and also “falsely stated… that (Tang) caused it over $100,000 in pecuniary losses.”

Tang argues that JCPenney did not suffer actual losses, and was not entitled to any restitution, since “the sale of discount coupons for profit on an online auction site was not and still is not illegal.” He alleges that JCPenney pursued the case against him “in an attempt to intimidate others who sold coupons on eBay, even though it was aware that such practice was not illegal.” Furthermore, he argues, he did not steal coupons out of the mail, but simply “removed JCP coupons from the undeliverable bin” that were destined to be destroyed or discarded.

Whether or not what Tang did amounts to theft, is up for debate. Retailers may frown upon the practice of selling valid coupons online, but it’s not a crime. Selling stolen property, however, is. And some postal workers have been convicted of federal mail theft charges for taking undeliverable mail, which is still U.S. Postal Service property. Others have been cleared of such charges because once undeliverable items were thrown in the trash, they “technically weren’t mail” anymore. Tang admitted taking the coupons from the undeliverable mail bin, not the trash, so one could argue he was lucky to be convicted of a misdemeanor charge of petit larceny rather than a felony mail theft charge.

That’s not an argument Tang is making, though. Along with the damage that the case caused to his career and bank account, Tang also says it damaged his reputation. His 2011 arrest was widely reported, making him “subject to public scrutiny and ridicule via internet, newspapers and radio news stations,” his lawsuit states.

Nothing that $25 million might not help to solve.

Image sources: JCPenney, Nassau County Police Department

 

One Comment

  1. Frugal Coupon Wife says:

    I really hope he does NOT get away with this. He was lucky he got what he got and wasn’t put away. He DID steal. How does the reasoning of the coupons were going to be thrown out anyway, justify “him” getting them? That’s not fair. Many other people would have loved to of gotten them as well. He didn’t just give them away, he sold what was “not” his, and for a profit. People like him need to be put away, not only did he steal those coupons, now he’s trying to basically steal more money, but legally by taking them to court. Gees!

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