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A Virginia man has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison and ordered to pay $31 million in restitution, in connection with his role in what prosecutors say “may be one of the biggest counterfeit coupon schemes in history.” And now his wife, the mastermind of the scheme, awaits her own fate.

Today’s sentencing came four months after 43-year-old Pacifico Talens pleaded guilty to mail fraud, admitting his role in what federal prosecutors described as a “counterfeit coupon empire” that he and his wife Lori ran out of their home in Virginia Beach.

“The scale of the Talens’s counterfeit coupon scheme was truly massive,” prosecutors noted ahead of the sentencing. The couple is accused of causing at least $31 million in losses to various manufacturers and retailers who accepted the fake coupons that the Talens created and sold.

Using her “experience in the retail world,” as well as her experience running a professional printing and marketing company, prosecutors said Lori Talens “perfected the art of counterfeiting coupons,” using her home computer to design and print more than 13,000 different counterfeit coupons for at least 132 different brands. The coupons were “printed on high quality glossy paper, contained corporate logos and images of the products in question, and working barcodes,” prosecutors said. “The only suspicious aspect of the coupons was the amount of discount they offered.”

The coupons offered large discounts that allowed users to obtain products for free or even better than free. Prosecutors said Lori Talens then sold her coupons online, recruiting more than 2,000 customers through a Facebook “coupon enthusiast group,” and inviting them to communicate directly with her – using the name “MasterChef” – on the Telegram encrypted messaging app.

Pacifico Talens admitting helping his wife, but asked for leniency ahead of his sentencing, arguing that she was the organizer and operator of the scheme. His wife “introduced the family to couponing” – first legally, then illegally, his attorney wrote in a pre-sentencing statement. He objected to participating in the “family business,” but his attorney acknowledged that he assisted in the “occasional mailing of packages, testing coupons, and distributing a very small portion of the coupons to his work colleagues.”

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The Talens are currently separated, his attorney noted, and in the midst of divorce proceedings. “He was in a stressful marriage,” his sister wrote in a letter to the court, “and did not detach from her unhealthy behaviors soon enough.”

Prosecutors countered that Pacifico Talens “played an integral role in the fraud scheme.” By packaging and mailing counterfeit coupons to customers, testing them out at local stores to make sure they worked, using some to buy items for the family, and selling some to his co-workers, he “was essential in the successful operation of the fraud scheme” and “shared in its rewards,” which amounted to at least $396,000 in earnings from their customers over a period of at least three years. “But for the law enforcement intervention, the Talens’s fraud scheme would be continuing to this day,” prosecutors concluded.

The prosecution pressed for a prison term of eight years and a month. Pacifico Talens requested “a significantly lower sentence,” noting that the couple has young children who should not be deprived of both parents, should they both end up behind bars for an extended period of time. The sentence of seven years and three months, plus three years of supervised release, is much closer to what prosecutors sought than what Talens had hoped for.

“Justice was done today,” Coupon Information Corporation Executive Director Bud Miller said in a statement. “While he was not the ringleader, Mr. Talens was an active participant in this scheme and was aware of its criminal nature. He regularly mailed packages of counterfeit coupons to customers across the country, spreading the fraud nationwide. He could have put a stop to the scheme at any time. He didn’t and will be paying the price for the rest of his life.”

A lengthy prison term, and full restitution, was necessary not just to punish Pacifico Talens, prosecutors had argued, but to deter others from engaging in similar schemes. “Coupon fraud has become more prevalent as the internet has developed, as social media sites have permitted individuals with nefarious intent to associate with one another, and as technology has evolved to permit people to create high quality counterfeit coupons out of their home at little cost,” prosecutors stated. Knowing that the Talens managed to defraud manufacturers out of more than $31 million “is sure to tempt other fraudsters to duplicate the Talens’s success,” they continued. “A significant sentence of incarceration is therefore necessary to dissuade would-be fraudsters from attempting the same fraud themselves.”

“This sentence should serve as a warning to coupon counterfeiters,” Miller agreed. “We are aware that some ‘Dark Side’ coupon counterfeiters have stopped their illegal activities as word of this, and other, cases became public.”

So let the case of Pacifico Talens be a cautionary tale to any counterfeiters still creating and selling their own coupons. And if they don’t get the message, perhaps the even harsher fate that awaits Lori Talens will. She’s due to be sentenced in September.

Image source: cpyles

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