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N.Y. store accused of CFL coupon fraud

The owner of a Farmingdale hardware store has been charged with stealing more than $40,000 from the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) by submitting hundreds of rebates for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) that didn't exist and over-reporting advertising costs.

Thomas Schuman, 44, of St. James, was arrested las week by District Attorney Investigators and charged with two counts of grand larceny in the third degree and seven counts offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted. 

According to the Nassau County District Attorney's office, from 2009 to 2011, Schuman, the owner of Four Star True Value Variety Store on Main Street in Farmingdale, participated in LIPA's Compact Fluorescent Light coupon rebate program. The program allows stores to offer discounts on CFLs ranging from 50 cents to $3 per bulb. Buyers would fill out a rebate coupon for the stores to submit to LIPA, and LIPA would then reimburse the store. 

In December 2011, LIPA conducted an audit and discovered that Four Star had submitted 923 fraudulent rebate coupons and was reimbursed $22,240. An investigation by the DA's Office revealed that Schuman instructed his employees to fill out the vouchers by instructing cashiers to use the phone book to find people who lived in the area and fill out a voucher in his or her name, even though they didn't purchase a CFL and may never have been a customer of his store. Schuman gave the cashiers a daily quota of vouchers to fill out. 

In the first quarter of 2011, the investigation revealed that Four Star was submitting approximately five coupons on behalf of each purported customer, and that it submitted 66% more rebate coupons than all Long Island Lowe's stores combined. 

The DA also accused Schuman of stealing an additional $19,200 from the utility as a participant in a LIPA-sponsored advertising program that reimbursed merchants that advertised the sale of CFLs. Schuman would advertise in the Long Island Pennysaver or Clipper magazine and then submit invoices that inflated advertising costs in order to be eligible for a higher rebate, according to the charges.


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