Queenpins: The Real Story

Posted on September 8, 2021 at 8:00 am

The crime comedy “Queenpins” is based on the true “pink collar crime” story of three Arizona women who masterminded a $40 million fraud based on grocery store coupons. Yes, coupons. It may sound silly and trivial, but coupons are like money. If you can buy a coupon for a free box of detergent or diapers for a tenth of the purchase price, you have stolen that item from the company that makes it and you have paid a criminal to help you do it. The movie is light-hearted, if not quite aspirational. But the reality is grubbier.

Robin Ramirez, Amiko Fountain, and Marilyn Johnson sold counterfeit coupons for products from more than 40 companies. The ring used a series of twelve different bank accounts to house their money. One account had more than $2 million. When they were arrested, they had $40 million in coupons and authorities later estimated that the coupon ring cost corporations hundreds of millions of dollars in profit.

Unlike the story in the movie, which has a postal inspector played by Vince Vaughn and a private security “loss prevention officer” played by Paul Walter Hauser tracking down the perpetrators, it was Proctor and Gamble who initially uncovered the fraud and the Phoenix police department who ran the investigation, led by Officer Sara Garza and Sergeant Dave Lake, assisted by The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office the private company Coupon Information Corporation, and the FBI Internet Crimes Unit. The County of Maricopa was also able to seize over $2,000,000 in assets, which included cash, guns, luxury cars, a speed boat, properties, and high end recreational vehicles. Ramirez was sentenced to two years in jail. Johnson and Fountain, who cooperated with law enforcement, were sentenced to probation. The three were also ordered to pay (partial) restitution: $1,288,682 to cover P&G’s losses.

The story was included in the CBS series “Pink Collar Crime.”

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The Real Story: The Courier

Posted on March 18, 2021 at 6:37 pm


Copyright 1985 Corgi

The Courier is based on the true story of an ordinary businessman named Greville Wynne who was asked by the CIA and MI6 to deliver some materials being leaked to the west by a high-ranking Soviet official.

The movie is pretty close to the real story, with one big exception making the CIA representative be a woman, played by Rachel Brosnahan of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” It is doubly hard to figure out what really happened, first because so much of the story is still classified and second because Wynne wrote two books about his experiences which were, well, inaccurate to the point of fantasy.

The Smithsonian has the real story.


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What is Eurovision?

Posted on June 25, 2020 at 8:00 am

Copyright Eurovision 2020
This week’s new comedy release on Netflix: “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” faces a real challenge: it is near-impossible to be wilder, more improbable, or downright crazier than the real thing. Eurovision is like what we call soccer and the rest of the world calls football, Eurovision is a competition that Americans barely notice but is hugely popular in other countries. The real event is canceled this year due to COVID-19, but they’re already preparing for next year.

Eurovision is an annual international song competition, held every year by the European Broadcasting Union since 1956 with participants representing primarily European countries. Each participating country submits an original song to be performed on live television and radio, then casts votes to determine the winner. The costumes are often, to put it mildly, flamboyant.

The most famous winner went on to become one of the biggest recording artists of the 20th century.

And this Canadian singer won when she competed for Switzerland.

Most of the other winners did not go on to international fame but it is a lot of fun to see the range of countries and styles.

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MVP of the Month: Real-Life Heroic Lawyers

Posted on December 16, 2019 at 9:21 am

Copyright Warner Brothers 2019
At awards season, we often get uplifting real-life stories and this year we have three that are about heroic lawyers fighting for justice against almost insurmountable odds. Here they are, with a little background on the real stories.

Mark Ruffalo as Rob Bilott in “Dark Waters

Billot was profiled by the New York Times, which dubbed him DuPont’s Biggest Nightmare. “Rob Bilott was a corporate defense attorney for eight years. Then he took on an environmental suit that would upend his entire career — and expose a brazen, decades-long history of chemical pollution.”

Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson in “Just Mercy”

Stevenson is a Harvard Law graduate who has spent his career in the town where the man who inspired the most beloved lawyer in movie history, Atticus Finch, practiced law. And like Finch, he defends those who have been unfairly accused and not had adequate access to counsel. He is also the Founder of the stunning Legacy Museum and National Memorial to Peace and Justice, sometimes called the Lynching Museum because of its extraordinary challenge to communities to acknowledge their past.

HBO has a documentary about Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative.

Sam Rockwell as Watson Bryant in “Richard Jewell

Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” is based on the true story of the man who was initially hailed as a hero for discovering a bomb at a concert celebrating the Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, and then accused of planting it to make himself famous. Watson Bryant was the lawyer who represented him, proving that the FBI and the local and national media were irresponsible to the point of negligence and abuse.

The movie was inspired by a Vanity Fair article called “American Nightmare” by Marie Brenner. Here is what she said about the lawyer who happened on to Jewell because they had briefly worked together:

The simple fact was that Bryant had no qualifications for the job. He had no legal staff except for his assistant, Nadya Light, no contacts in the press, and no history in Washington. He was the opposite of media-savvy; he rarely read the papers and never watched the nightly news, preferring the Discovery Channel’s shows on dog psychology. Now that Richard Jewell was his client, he had entered a zone of worldwide media hysteria fraught with potential peril. Jewell suspected that his pickup truck had been flown in a C-130 transport plane to the F.B.I. unit at Quantico in Virginia, and Bryant worried that his friend would be arrested any minute. Worse, Bryant knew that he had nothing going for him, no levers anywhere. His only asset was his personality; he had the bravado and profane hyperbole of a southern rich boy, but he was in way over his head.

You can see the real Bryant here:

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Hustlers — The Real Story

Posted on September 16, 2019 at 8:00 am

“Hustlers” is based on the real-life story of strippers who drugged men and then stole money by running up charges on their credit and debit cards, figuring (mostly correctly) that the men would be too embarrassed to do anything about it.

TIME Magazine wrote about the real story.  Many of the details of the story are accurately portrayed in the film, though names and some facts have been changed.  After business fell off at the strip clubs following the financial meltdown, the women did sprinkle a concoction of MDMA, ketamine, and cocaine into the men’s drinks. And the police had an informant,, a man who was willing to complain, and a sting operation, which  gave them what they needed to arrest the women.  And the woman who inspired the character played by Constance Wu is writing a book.



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