Lori Ann Villanueva Talens, 41, was ordered to repay $31.8million to retailers that she defrauded with fake coupons that she sold to a network of shoppers online
Talens got 12 years in prison on Sept. 14, after pleading guilty to mail fraud, wire fraud and welfare fraud
Fake coupons with a collective value of $1 million were found in ‘every crevice’ of her home when a warrant was executed
She designed and printed coupons at home and sold them to a network she amassed on social media sites using the name ‘MasterChef’
The FBI said she was ‘able to create a coupon for almost any grocery or drugstore product, and able to make it for whatever value off she wanted’
Teds say Talens used the profits to bankroll lavish vacations, dinners, a new kitchen, sunroom and in-ground swimming pool
In addition to the coupon scheme, the fraudster got $43,000 in benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid
She was sentenced to an additional 10 years for welfare fraud, which she will serve concurrently
Her husband Pacifico Talens was sentenced in July to seven years and three months in prison on August 17, for his role in the operation,
Prosecutors said Pacifico helped ship the illegitimate coupons to customers and ‘performed other administrative tasks at the direction of his wife’ – She receives the longer sentence
A Virginia woman who was convicted of selling nearly $32 million in counterfeit coupons and using her ill-gotten gains to pay for home renovations and luxury vacations is to spend 12 years behind bars.
Lori Ann Villanueva Talens, 41, shipped tens of thousands of coupons she designed and printed at home to a network of more than 2,000 customers she amassed on social media sites like Facebook and Telegram using the name ‘MasterChef.’
Fake coupons with a collective value of $1 million were found in ‘every crevice’ of the Virginia Beach home she shared with her husband, Pacifico Talens Jr., when a warrant was executed for their arrest.
‘There were coupons in every jacket pocket; they were stuffed in her vehicles,’ according to Postal Inspector Jason Thomasson.
About 100 companies, including Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Ziploc, were victimized by the ‘counterfeit coupon empire’. Paper products company Kimberly-Clark was the hardest hit, with nearly $9 million lost to the scheme.
The FBI also found designs to create coupons for more than 13,000 different products on Talens’ computer.
After reviewing the designs of the ‘Frankenstein’ coupons – which combined elements of legitimate ones – and comparing them with counterfeit coupons in circulation, they determined she was responsible for $31,817,997 in losses.
Lori Ann Villanueva Talens distributed tens of thousands of coupons she designed and printed at home to a network she amassed on social media sites like Facebook and Telegram using the name ‘MasterChef,’ the FBI reported last Thursday.
Prosecutors said that she ‘perfected the art’ of counterfeiting coupons, and was able to ‘create [coupons] virtually indistinguishable from genuine [ones].’
The majority of her forgeries offered deals equal to – or even greater than – the value of the merchandise. In cases where the discount exceeded the item’s price, retailers had to pay customers from their registers for ‘purchasing’ them.
Brian Dugan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office said ‘Coupon fraud is not a harmless crime. Lori Ann Talens and her husband operated an audacious fraud scheme that stole more than $31 million directly from retailers and manufacturers.’
However, the counterfeiter’s attorney, Lawrence Woodward Jr., argued that his client should get a lighter sentence because she gave authorities information about the ‘rather murky world of counterfeit couponing’ in interviews and identified other counterfeiters.
With a background in marketing and strong computer design skills, the FBI said, she was ‘able to create a coupon for almost any grocery or drugstore product, and able to make it for whatever value off she wanted.’
‘She had coupons for $24.99 off a $25 box of diapers. And it would work,’ said Thomasson. ‘And you’d have people walking out the door with those diapers for almost nothing.’
With the savings from her coupons and the proceeds from their sale, Talens paid for vacations, shopping trips and dinners out for herself and her family. The profits also bought her a new kitchen, sunroom and in-ground swimming pool.
Over three years, Talens was paid $400,000 by her subscribers between April of 2017 and May of 2020, an amount that the FBI said was determined through a ‘painstaking’ review of thousands of transactions through payment apps and virtual currency wallets.
She would ship the fraudulent coupons via the United States Postal Service.
The racket was discovered after a member of Talens’ secret network – which participants could only join after they’d sent along a copy of their photo ID and some kind of proof that they had used fake coupons before – reported her to the Coupon Information Corporation, an agency dedicated to coupon integrity.
After an investigation, the agency linked Talens to $125,000 in fake coupons that had traveled from stores to coupon clearinghouses, where they are collected so product manufacturers can be billed to repay the retailer. Then, the FBI got involved.
‘If the coupons are rejected, if they are counterfeit, then the retailer doesn’t get paid back for them,’ said FBI Special Agent Shannon Brill.
‘But that whole process takes a lot of time. By the time a coupon gets identified as being fraudulent or fake, that coupon has already been used who knows how many times.’
Lori Ann Talens and her husband, Pacifico Talens, 43, pleaded guilty to mail fraud in April.
Lori Ann was sentenced on September 14 after she pled guilty for mail fraud, wire fraud and welfare fraud.
The FBI is still seeking out subscribers to her forged coupon service, who ‘should not be surprised if they hear from investigators.’
‘I am deeply ashamed and embarrassed by the way I have acted,’ she wrote in a letter filed with the office of US District Judge Rodrick C. Young, according to the New York Times.
‘I realize I have served as a terrible moral example on how to act responsibly for my three children. I will regret that the rest of my life.’
In addition to the coupon scheme, the fraudster applied for benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid, and reaped a total of $43,000 between November 2015 and February 2020.
She was sentenced to an additional 10 years for welfare fraud, which she will serve concurrently to her 12-year sentence.
Pacifico Talens was sentenced in July to seven years and three months in prison on August 17, for his role in the operation.
According to the US Attorney of the Eastern District of Virginia., Pacifico helped ship the illegitimate coupons to customers and ‘perform[ed] other administrative tasks at the direction of his wife,’ prosecutors said.
‘But for Lori Ann’s expertise, motivation, and determination, this scheme could not have occurred… She deserves the lion’s share of the credit for its success, and… must receive the lion’s share of the punishment for the harm she has caused.’