It's being called one of the largest counterfeit coupon operations in history, and investigators say the mastermind behind it all is a 22-year-old Coronado High School graduate.
Lucas Townsend Henderson, a sophomore at Rochester Institute of Technology who recently worked for Lubbock ISD Information Systems, is charged with wire fraud and trafficking in counterfeit goods.
Authorities only recently revealed the details of their investigation. Previously sealed federal documents are out of New York, where Henderson made his first court appearance yesterday.
Investigators say Henderson created fake coupons for nearly a year. He's accused of making online, print-at-home coupons — designed to look legitimate — since July 2010. Officials say they were made to look like coupons available at the Internet site smartsource.com.
According to complaints from federal court, the fake coupons provided discounts on different products, including energy drinks, beer, and cigarettes — to more expensive items, such as X-box and Playstation game systems.
Authorities also say Henderson wrote instructions on how to create fake coupons and posted them online for others to see.
Investigators say the coupons led to substantial losses for manufacturers and retailers. For instance, in December people redeemed $200,000 worth of counterfeit coupons for Tide laundry detergent.
Henderson now faces up to 30-years in prison for both the fraud and counterfeiting charges.
We reached out to Henderson, and his father provided us with the following statement:
"My son is essentially an immature college kid who plays around on the Internet. Like a lot of people on the Internet, he sometimes portrays himself unrealistically. You can read the actual complaint online, and you can see that the allegations from the FBI on page 4 say that he posted coupons for beer, soup, power bars, and Hershey kisses. When you read further in the complaint on pages 8 and 9, he was fully cooperative with the FBI. Yes the allegations of wire fraud and counterfeiting coupons are serious, but they aren't alleging that he was selling these to make money or masterminding a scheme to defraud anyone of major electronic appliances or anything like that. Apparently, there are people who have used a coupon program to defraud companies of major electronics, but that's not Lucas. The complaint only alleges that Lucas was doing it for beer and snacks."
We asked United Supermarkets' Eddie Owens if counterfeit coupons are an issue here.
"We're also seeing more and more fraudulent coupons coming through and I think it's just an advent of the economy."
Owens says his store accepts internet coupons. He offers advice for consumers on spotting the difference between real and fake ones.
"Legitimate internet coupons will require internet software that will not allow the coupon to be seen on the screen," he said.
Henderson is on pre-trial supervision. His father says Lucas will only be allowed in New York and Texas.
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