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The next time a generous but misguided grocery store manager decides to honor “all coupons” – his employees might want to think twice about honoring “all coupons”.

A second former cashier in Florida has been sentenced for her role in an $18,000 coupon scam that came about after her manager instituted the world’s most lenient coupon policy.

28-year-old Princess Tolliver (pictured above, at right) pleaded no contest to a charge of fraud, and has been sentenced to two and a half years of probation, a ten-day, time-served jail sentence and must pay $1,075.30 in restitution. The penalties are more severe than those doled out late last month to her former co-worker, 26-year-old Syneda Francis (pictured at left) – but they’re far less severe than they could have been.

The two former cashiers at a Winn-Dixie grocery store in Tallahassee, Florida were arrested last December, after their coupon-friendly manager decided his store would be the coupon-friendliest of all. According to the criminal complaint, the manager had “instituted a storewide policy in which cashiers were to accept all coupons, in the spirit of customer service.”

So in the spirit of customer service, police were told, Tolliver and Francis accepted “all coupons” from a select few fortunate customers.

Store asset protection managers who became suspicious about the large number of coupons the two were ringing up, reviewed surveillance footage and said it appeared the cashiers were being especially generous with a specific group of about four or five female shoppers. Those shoppers would show up at the checkout lanes with carts full of expensive items like meat, baby products, cleaning supplies and toiletries, and would hand over stacks of coupons.

Nothing wrong with using stacks of coupons. But in this case, many of the coupons were rejected by the register, since they apparently didn’t match the products being purchased. And store officials said Tolliver, a former store manager who still had override codes, would simply push them through.

“All coupons” were to be accepted, after all.

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Over time, the customers apparently began skipping the formality of actually bringing their own coupons to the store. In at least one transaction, the incident report described the customers taking Sunday newspapers from the store’s racks, pulling out the coupon inserts, and handing them to the cashiers.

And over time, the cashiers apparently began skipping the formality of actually scanning the items being purchased. The incident report described several transactions in which Tolliver and Francis were seen scanning dozens of coupons even before scanning any groceries to which they purportedly applied, then “pushing the majority of unscanned groceries towards the bags”.

All that coupon scanning, combined with minimal grocery scanning, caused large negative balances, which were put onto gift cards. In one transaction, a customer purchased about $400 worth of groceries, only about half of which were scanned, while more than $600 worth of coupons were applied to the order. So the customer not only got all of her groceries for free, but she got more than $400 worth of gift cards on top of it all.

As an apparent “thank you” for their coupon friendliness, police said Tolliver was given free groceries and gift cards from her grateful customers. And police said Francis admitted to buying groceries back from her customers, for half price.

In all, over a three-month period, Francis was accused of aiding in the theft of about $7,700 worth of merchandise, while Tolliver was accused of causing nearly $10,000 worth of losses.

So it’s not clear why Francis last month was ordered to pay only $69.78 in restitution. She was also sentenced to one year of probation, 100 hours of community service and a one-day, time-served jail sentence. Tolliver owes far more in restitution, but far less than the losses she’s accused of causing.

As for the manager who came up with the store’s coupon policy, he was fired along with Francis and Tolliver. And the Winn-Dixie store where they all worked was closed last year for “underperformance”, as parent company Southeastern Grocers was working its way through bankruptcy proceedings.

Southeastern Grocers eventually emerged from bankruptcy after shedding nearly 100 “underperforming” stores, describing itself as “a stronger company” that is “well-positioned to thrive”. Had a few more of their stores decided to implement the most coupon-friendliest of coupon policies, though – the company’s story could have had a very different ending.

Image sources: Leon County Sheriff’s Office / Phillip Pessar

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