Three middle-aged women were arrested in a coupon scam so big and elaborate that it involved millions of dollars in cash, guns, and a speedboat. Yes, a coupon scam.
Phoenix Police arrested Marilyn Johnson, 61, Robin Ramirez, 40, and Amiko Fountain, 42, for their alleged involvement in the counterfeit coupon scam.
The three suspects look like they should've been a part of a friendly group of coupon collectors -- not a massive scam. But this was no neighborhood hobby club, police say.
The coupon scam emerged over four years ago, as high-quality counterfeit copies of authentic manufacturer coupons began to surface across the country, according to police.
Earlier this year, it was discovered that a major distributor of these coupons was a Phoenix-based website called Savvyshoppersite.com -- a spinoff of the legitimate local consumer magazine, Savvy Shopper.
The Coupon Information Corporation -- an association of product manufactures that tries to combat coupon fraud -- hired private investigators to look into the nationwide scam, and in February, the investigators alerted police to the existence of the Savvy Shopper scam.
Investigators discovered the identities of the three women in custody by researching their website. Further investigation revealed that Ramirez was the ring-leader, records say.
The coupons were printed elsewhere, brought to Arizona, and the women would sell access to their phony coupons through the websites.
Fountain was responsible for the storage, distribution, and construction of the coupons. She admitted her role in the scheme but claimed she didn't know the operation was illegal, records show. Police arrested Johnson for running a satellite website of Savvyshoppersite.com called Amenglishmastiffs.com.
The women presented the sites as legitimate but asked customers not to advertise the coupons, and they requested that the customers use the site only after approved referrals.
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Police seized about $2 million worth of guns, cash, and a speed boat. The more than 20 guns that police confiscated were not a part of the operation, police say.
The nationwide endeavor swindled more than 40 manufacturers over the course of its four-year run. The scam is estimated to have cost those companies hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, according to police.
Police are not yet sure exactly who else is involved in the scam, but these ladies are facing several felonies.