More than 80 people identified in illegal coupon ring, Montgomery County officials say

Three people were arrested locally

HOUSTON – Numerous people have been arrested and charged with theft after Montgomery County authorities discovered what they called “astonishing” coupon crimes happening in their area.

According to officials, the investigation started in November 2020 after one individual purchased more than $200,000 worth of items from different stores in one year using counterfeit coupons.

How the coupon manipulation happened

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office said during their investigation, they discovered a couponing group known in the underground world as “Dark Side” coupons that sold fraudulent coupons that looked like they were made by the manufacturers of products.

Authorities said the thieves stole items from Walmart, H-E-B, Kroger, Target and Walgreens in the Montgomery County and Harris County areas.

The counterfeit coupons were often customized to meet the request of those ordering them. The coupons’ manipulation was on paper versions of the coupons, involving printers like the ones used by retailers. The criminals would then print up coupons in a “sweatshop”-style setting and people would call up, saying what kind of coupons they would need and they would be manipulated and printed, authorities said. Clerks would use the coupon and the coupon would ring up as something totally different, but the photo on the coupon would be of the product, such as diapers or cleaning liquids, and the coupon would be accepted.

The products were then sold at various locations, such as at flea markets or online, for a profit.

What was seized, who it will help

Authorities said they seized a truckload with 4,000 items and shut down the website that had been operating. The seized items -- including toiletries, cleaning products and toys -- will be donated to local charities that help children, trafficked children, domestic violence victims and the homeless.

“The Sheriff’s department is taking a bad situation from crime, and turning it into a beautiful mission to provide for families that are less fortunate. Everyday items that we can use to support our families,” said Marilyn Kasmiersky, executive director of Family Promise which helps homeless families find shelter.

”This is such a huge blessing to our organization. Not only do we help the homeless, but as they’re transitioning off the streets, they go into our transitional homes so these are items that can be used in the homes everyday,” said Savannah Cordell, Director of Special Events and Fundraising for Compassion United.

Scope of the alleged crimes

The wide-ranging investigation identified 87 people across 23 states, and the case has now been turned over to the FBI and will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Three locals, Cassandra Clark, Sheilo Cruz and Rudolph Cruz, were arrested and charged with engaging in organized criminal activity. Officials said a federal charge of theft could also be applied.

Officials said preliminary results from a clearinghouse that processes valid coupons for retailers have documented more than $9.7 million dollars in losses and project there could be another $10 million in losses as the investigation continues.

Watch full Montgomery County news conference below:

Montgomery County officials discuss a wide-ranging investigation into a coupon crime ring.

About the Authors:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.