Extreme Couponing Drove Her to Ruin
A mom says she lost her savings and her pregnancy fighting back against Target, which accused her of stealing $27,000 worth of merchandise she split with accomplices on the inside.
“It’s a steal” when you get a good deal at the store, but authorities say “extreme couponer” Elyse Rumenapp’s obscene savings were truly crooked.
The warehouse worth of stuff she snatched up on the cheap included razors, common household cleaners, boxes and boxes of flatscreen TVs, iPads, computers, thousands of dollars worth of gift cards, and $3,600 in Visa gift cards she used to buy a boob job. Rumenapp, 25, attracted novice shoppers who gravitated toward the cost-cutting kung fu master to get schooled on saving big.
Now the nurse is broke after burning her entire savings to defend herself against criminal charges of “organized retail theft” in 2012. After being acquitted last year, Rumenapp sued Target this week for siccing the police on her and destroying her life. Rumenapp said the two-year ordeal made her suffer extreme “anguish,” culminating in a miscarriage.
Coupons are big business, responsible for almost $4 billion in annual savings, but an estimated 10 percent is lost to forgeries. One crew of convicted couponers were running a $40 million counterfeit coupon repository on the website “Savvyshoppersite.com” where, according to Arizona prosecutors, they would hawk coupons for everything from movie tickets to baked beans. Two of the women were given probation after pleading guilty while the ringleader was sentenced to two years.
Extreme couponing was launched into the mainstream with a TLC show aptly called Extreme Couponing. Coupon Information Center, a watchdog group, blamed the showrunners for having guests use “counterfeit coupons and engaged in other practices in violation of State and federal laws.”
Rumenapp apparently was a fan of the TV show, her lawyer Scott Palmer said, and around November 2012 formed her own clique of couponers. Each managed to earn a rep of choking-up various checkout lanes for up to four hours at a clip after setting down a ream of coupons, irking employees at big box stores throughout Wylie, Plano, and Garland, Texas.
A former friend and fellow extreme couponer remains stumped on Rumenapp’s shopping sorcery.
“I would go to the store with her a few times and I still have no idea how she was doing it,” the friend, who requested anonymity, told The Daily Beast.
“My type of couponing was getting five Scrubbing Bubbles, Glade, and diapers,” she said. “I wouldn’t get anything like she would and I never understood how she was doing it. I can just imagine.”
The woman said she told her husband of witnessing Rumenapp rack up incomprensible discounts and he warned her to steer clear. “He told me ‘Something’s not right and don’t go shopping with her again,’” the former couponing cohort said.
In January 2013, the group of bargain hunters and their apprentices made the Super Target located close to Rumenapp’s home in Wylie, Texas, their go-to spot to shop.
Initially, Rumenapp kept her purchases conservative, simply “a few toys, clothes and other items that were actually on the coupons,” the police report states.
Rumenapp graduated to pricy electronics because, police said, “she could get away with it.”
Though it took a lot of planning.
Detectives had spoken to a former friend and fellow extreme couponer of Rumenapp’s who explained that she would utilize computer terminals at her hospital workplace to print coupons “using several different computers because she can only print certain amounts on each computer,” according to the police report.
Rumenapp chronicled her couponing, according to her civil lawsuit against Target, by taking “pictures of the process and the fruits of her labor inside the store.” Every time she presented her coupons, they were either “accepted by the cashiers, and in some instances approved by managers of the store.”
The stockpile of a variety of household cleaning products, razors, and baby goods that she wheeled and dealed weren’t fenced but went straight to Rumenapp’s garage, where they were stored as reserves or “multiples of certain items.”
She bought stuff for which “she had no use for as a way to take advantage of certain coupons…because it was such a good bargain.” According to the civil lawsuit, “on occasion” she gave some of the overstock from these kinds of impulse purchases of Gatorade and video games to the Christian Care Center.
A manager at the the Christian Care Center in Wylie, Texas, who refused to give his name told The Daily Beast that “I have never heard of her” when asked about whether his charity ever received gifts from Rumenapp.
Rumenapp started texting a cashier named Darrien Kirkwood, whom she fancied for his patience. While other cashiers sulked when Rumenapp strolled up with multiple cartfulls of discounted wares, Kirkwood saw past the imposition.
Rumenapp would make the Target trips a family affair, bringing along her mother and her husband, according to the police report. The former friend told cops “she believes [Rumenapp’s] husband is aware of what’s happening because they share a bank account and knows she doesn’t have money to pay for it all.”
She soon began scheduling her shopping trips with Kirkwood directly through text messages, and also made nice with Kirkwood’s team leader Matthew Villeneuve, who, authorities said, gladly overrode the register with a code whenever questionable coupons wouldn’t transact for the haul of Rumenapp’s gizmos and bulk goods.
Rumenapp honed in on Target’s store policies, which she kept with her “whenever she shopped,” the court papers say. Like a sales soothsayer, Rumenapp “knew just how many coupons she could use at one time, what items had promotional sales, how many transactions she would need to perform, and what would garner an overage at the end of her transactions,” according to her civil lawsuit.
Beyond her astounding in-store IQ, Rumenapp also relied on an app called SnipSnap, where she tapped into more Target savings.
After the shopping splurge, Rumenapp, Kirkwood, and Villeneuve would allegedly divvy up the goods in the Target parking lot. Her civil attorney Scott Palmer said this was a form of gratuity for “being nice to her.” Rumenapp was allegedly informed she could tip Target employees as long as it was outside the store.
Both Kirkwood and Villeneuve initially pleaded guilty in Collin County, Texas District Court for aiding with the estimated $27,000 takeaway in illicit savings rang up from the Super Target visits. Each is fighting to overturn their pleas since Rumenapp was absolved of all theft charges at trial.
Rumenapp was singled out, her criminal defense attorney says, adding the entire saga may have been thanks to a beef that started when Rumenapp helped get a cop fired for “running someone’s criminal history” when they weren’t authorized to do so.
“They had a grudge against her,” said Deandra Grant, Rumenapp’s attorney who defended her during the trial. “She turned the officer in and ever since the police department had it out for her.”
When reached by The Daily Beast, a Wylie police official declined to comment citing “circumstances tied up in court.”
Grant also said the case was bunk from the get go, with prosecutors and cops showing pictures of other women in her couponing group and saying they were Rumenapp. Most of all, not one of the coupons Rumenapp submitted was proven to be either doctored or deemed fraudulent.
“Nobody could pull out any coupon and say it was expired or fake,” she said. “If you are going to charge someone you might as well have some proof.”
Grant eviscerated the DA’s case against the mother of two, who said she was indeed expecting a third addition to her family. However, “one week” after triumphing in court Rumenapp miscarried, her lawsuit claims.
To this day none of the items tagged as evidence from her and her parents’ homes during a search and seizure two years ago have been returned to her, her lawyer said.
“They pulled up with a [box] truck and filled it with iPads, computers and I think her husband’s military medals and tons and tons of household cleaners and razors,” Grant said. “It all still has yet to be returned back to her.”
Any accusations of Rumenapp treating herself to luxurious perks is misguided, Grant stressed. The boob job police accused Rumenapp of buying with $3,600 worth Visa gift cards was for reconstructive surgery following breast cancer, she said.
“I don’t know how you can consider that a high-flying lifestyle,” Grant said.
A Target spokeswoman declined to respond to The Daily Beast questions about the lawsuit, citing a policy of refusing to discuss “pending legal matters.”
Prosecutors in Collin County hinged their case on both Target’s cashier and the team leader who told detectives they were culpable for helping Rumenapp ring up her discounted merch. In the police report the two admit to being part of a conspiracy to fleece Target of various goods and arranging for their own shopping lists to be fetched up by Rumenapp.
January 15, 2013, would mark Rumenapp’s “last trip to Target to extreme coupon,” her lawsuit says. That day a different store manager cried fraud and declared Rumenapp’s “coupons were invalid.”
Pressing the manager on which of her coupons couldn’t be redeemed, Rumenapp’s lawsuit suggests the coupons in question were the ones texted to her mobile phone. The only way for her to use such coupons was through Target’s Cartwheel app.
She explained to the manager how she acquired the digital coupons, but the papers say he informed her that “he was going to have to limit her transactions to one per day.”
And the manager also told Rumenapp that her favorite checkout clerk in Kirkwood would receive “extra training on the rules of accepting coupons.”
Moments later the same manager reversed his edict and, according to the civil lawsuit, actually confirmed Rumenapp was right and that the texted coupons being used were indeed viable and he “apologized…and offered the excuse that sometimes Target Corporation did not relate thing to the stores in a timely fashion.”
Still, a security exec for Target more than two weeks later filed a theft report with police and he focused on Rumenapp’s favorite cashier and how he routinely “lowered [her] total by hand-keying amounts for fraudulent coupons.”
According to the police report, Kirkwood admitted that at first he rebuffed Rumenapp but later “gave in to the pressure.” And apparently Kirkwood had a penchant for video games. Rumenapp, the police report says, “would buy him things and he admitted asking for items as well.”
The team leader, Villeneuve, was apparently the one given an iPad, according to the police. Rumenapp’s attorney Deandra Grant insists that this was a present from one of the other extreme couponers in her group, not Rumenapp.
Kirkwood told cops then that Rumenapp was “using fraudulent coupons” and that his superior Villeneuve would routinely swoop in and “if the coupon was anything over $10” he simply “assumed that was the amount” without really vetting it.
For his troubles Villeneuve said he received the iPad (which he later forfeited to cops) and that he “felt guilty about it” and that “he felt something wasn’t right” about the times that Rumenapp showed up with her coupons and left with cartloads of stuff. Villeneuve denied he was the ringleader.
“If anything, the woman was it.”
Repeated attempts to reach Kirkwood and Villeneuve’s lawyers were unsuccessful.
When Rumenapp was taken into custody at her job at Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, she apparently tried to keep the matter on the hush from her close couponer friend. “I talked to her every day and the day she was arrested she told me she couldn’t respond back because she’d lost her phone at the hospital and that ‘my mom had a brain aneurism,’” the friend told us.
Once Rumenapp’s pal looked online and discovered the woman’s mugshot, she quickly did the calculus. “Elyse was trying to lie to me and I haven’t spoken to her since,” she said. “I honestly cut myself off because she is very manipulative and she is a habitual liar.”
Editor's Note: This story had been amended to clarify the sentencing of the three convicted Phoenix women.