Queenpins True Story: The Real-Life Inspiration Explained

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The comedy Queenpins, which is about two friends behind a massive couponing scheme, is based on a true story. Queenpins reunites actors Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste — who appeared together in Veronica Mars and The Good Place —  as Connie Kaminiski and JoJo Johnson, respectively. In the movie, Connie receives a coupon as an apology after she complains to a company about stale cereal. This incident sparks an idea that ends up making her, and her best friend JoJo, a lot of money. Queenpins’ true story is based on the couponing scam designed by three Arizona women: Robin Ramirez, Marilyn Johnson, and Amiko “Amy” Fountain.

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Queenpins’ cast of characters also includes familiar faces like Bebe Rexha, Vince Vaughn, and Joel McHale in supporting roles. In Queenpins, Connie and JoJo’s idea to resell stolen coupons quickly gains traction online, and the two find themselves as the heads of a lucrative illegal operation. To keep the police off their trail, Connie and JoJo enlist the help of tech genius Tempe Tina (Bebe Rexha). The sudden influx of invalid coupons nonetheless attracts the attention of a grocery chain’s loss prevention officer, Ken Miller (Paul Walter Hauser), who helps a U.S. postal inspector, Simon Kilmurry (Vince Vaughn), uncover where the illegal coupons are coming from. Queenpins‘ true story is a lot more elaborate, as the couponing scam was much more complicated than the movie made it out to be.


Related: Impeachment True Story: What Happened & What American Crime Story Changes

The $40 million coupon scam may seem like a work of fiction, but Queenpins’ true story is inspired by a real true-crime story. In 2012, Arizona police did arrest three women in possession of millions of dollars worth of fake coupons. Illegal couponing may not sound like a big deal, but on a large scale, it can cost corporations millions of dollars in lost revenue.  Queenpins‘ true story scam inspired the movie, but it’s not a perfectly accurate retelling.

Queenpins Is Based (Loosely) On A True Story

Bell and Howell-Baptiste in Queenpins

Queenpins is based on a real-life coupon scam orchestrated by three women in Arizona: Robin Ramirez, Marilyn Johnson, and Amiko “Amy” Fountain. Ramirez, who was 40 years old at the time of her arrest, was considered the ringleader of the group. Johnson, then 54, and Fountain, 42, assisted her with the operation, which made them millions. The American true-crime story caught the attention of Sgt. David Lake of the Phoenix Police Department, who told local TV station KPHO [via Coupons in the News]: “The opulence and the money was the equivalent of drug cartel-type of stuff.” Regardless of the women’s financial situation before they started the scheme, by the time it ended, they were living in luxury. The coupon scam was featured in the CBS documentary series Pink Collar Crimes in 2018, and Queenpins takes a more comedic approach to the story. Queenpins‘ true story on the other hand isn’t comedic in any sense as the women had to pay out a hefty sum and do some hard time for the scam.


Real-Life Coupon Scam: How It Worked

Queenpins

Coupons in the News reports that Ramirez started selling fake coupons as early as 2007. Her system involved sending coupons overseas to be reproduced and counterfeited in large quantities. Similar to other true crime movies like Leonardo DiCaprio’s Wolf of Wallstreet, Queenpins‘ true story is somewhat glossed over for the sake of time and the couponing scam itself was a victim of this. These coupons would be altered to amazing deals. For instance, a real coupon for $1 off Pringles could be changed to $50 worth of free dog food. Some customers later admitted the deals seemed too good to be true, but they never wanted to question such good fortune.


Johnson helped package and ship orders, and Fountain sometimes added hologram stickers to the fake coupons to make them look more legitimate. The coupons were then sold on eBay from multiple different accounts as well as from the group’s own website, SavvyShopperSite. This site required an invite in order to access, and also included a warning not to freely share where customers purchased the coupons.

Related: The Serpent True Story: What Crimes The Show Left Out

Who Are The Real-Life Queenpins

Queenpins Kristen Bell

Queenpins‘ true story ends with the couponing scam alone. The Good Place‘s Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste don’t technically represent any of the three women as a whole. Therefore, Queenpins is really more “inspired” by a true story rather than based on one. The real-life Queenpins were three Phoenix, Arizona-based women named Robin Ramirez, Marilyn Johnson, and Amiko “Amy” Fountain. Robin Ramirez is said to be the ringleader of the operation and was the only one that faced jail time for the scam. Ramirez initially started the couponing scam alone, as she began selling counterfeit coupons back in 2007 and was later joined by Johnson and Fountain after seeing the monetary potential of the scam.


While Connie and JoJo shared equal weight in their partnership, like Jonah Hill and Miles Teller in War Dogs, Queenpins’ true story has Robin Ramirez on the frontlines as she was truly the brains behind the entire operation. She would have legitimate coupons reproduced overseas in large quantities and then sell them via her eBay account. During the trial in 2013, both Amiko Fountain and Marylin Johnson agreed to testify against the ringleader, causing Ramirez to change her plea to “guilty”. While Robin was the only one sentenced to jail, all three were forced to pay restitution to Proctor and Gamble to the tune of $1.2 million. Since the state of Arizona forbids criminals from making a profit off of selling their stories, none of the women will make a dime off of the 2021 movie Queenpins. Fountain and Johnson still live and work in the Phoenix area and seem to have put the incident behind them. Ramirez, on the other hand, has had her probation extended multiple times, and based on her scant monthly payments towards restitution, she’ll be able to pay it down in about 120 years.


What Happened To The Real-Life Coupon “Queenpins”?

Queenpins Ken and Simon

Like in the ending of the movie, the women’s fortune eventually came to an end in Queenpins‘ true story. One of the victimized companies, Procter & Gamble, launched an investigation when they discovered some of the fake coupons during a routine audit. Forty businesses eventually filed fraud complaints, alerting the Coupon Information Corporation and local police. Private investigators worked with the Phoenix Police Department who went undercover to track down the three women involved. The investigation lasted eight weeks, during which officers pretended to be customers purchasing some of the counterfeit coupons. The 2013 American true-crime story was initially forgotten about until Queenpins brought it back into the light.

Queenpins’ true story is much less comedic than Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s rendition of the tale. A police raid found more than $40 million in fake coupons along with $2 million in other assets including 22 guns, cash, 21 vehicles, and a speed boat. Ramirez, Fountain, and Johnson were all arrested. Fountain and Johnson eventually pleaded guilty to counterfeiting, and Ramirez pleaded guilty to counterfeiting, fraud, and illegal control of an enterprise. She was sentenced to 3 years in prison and seven years probation while her friends served 3 years probation. Queenpins’ true story is not quite the laughing matter that The Woman in the House actress Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste make it out to be.


Related: True Detective Season 1: Real Life Crime Inspiration Explained

Everything The Movie Changes

bebe rexha in queenpins

Queenpins’ true story is markedly different than the movie. In Queenpins, authorities first become aware of a potential problem when a Loss Prevention Officer working for the grocery store chain called A&G Family Mart receives numerous complaints of fraudulent coupons. He initially goes to the FBI for help, but the case gets transferred to a U.S. Postal Inspector since the coupons are being physically mailed out (making the scam mail fraud). This angle allows the film to be more comedic in how it covered the investigation; it also takes focus away from the harm the scam did to companies. Although the movie does mention Procter & Gamble by name, the businesses are portrayed as not really being affected by the scam — instead, the event is framed as “just a write-off” for them.

Inspector Simon Kilmurry (played by Fighting With My Family‘s Vince Vaughn) would’ve suffered a lot more in real life than he did in the movie. In reality, P&G received financial compensation for the losses in revenue. Other companies also asked for reimbursement, but could not prove their products were involved in the coupon scheme. Queenpins chose not to include the reimbursement the women were court-ordered to pay, most likely to make them seem more sympathetic to the audience. It is much easier to root for characters whose actions don’t actually cause any lasting harm. Other key changes in Queenpins are also meant to further endear the two lead women to audiences. Connie chooses to take full responsibility for their crimes to protect JoJo. Yet, in Queenpins‘ true story, Johnson and Fountain turned on Ramirez in exchange for lighter sentences. The movie also gives Frozen actress Kristen Bell’s Connie a tragic backstory. Pregnancy complications are the cause of her and her husband’s financial struggles, which lead her toward extreme money-making schemes.


The movie simplifies Queenpins‘ true story and the women’s counterfeiting system as well. In real life, they would send real coupons overseas to be altered and mass-produced. In Queenpins, they simply stole excess coupons from a factory in Mexico. All of their “fake” coupons were in fact real, just being distributed in much larger quantities than companies wanted. Queenpins also reduces the women’s sentences. JoJo receives 10 days of jail time and one-year probation while Connie receives 11 months of jail time. Neither of them learns their lesson from this though in the movie Queenpins because the film ends with Connie and JoJo planning to start their coupon scam all over again, this time overseas.

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