Jerry Jacobson; ex-cop and criminal mastermind behind the largest-ever scam involving McDonald’s and monopoly is the key of the story. In 1987, McDonald’s started their most successful marketing campaign. To date, every purchase gave customers the opportunity to collect the Monopoly game piece and tokens attached to McDonald’s packaging. Each one of these items contained a prize ranging from free food to a million dollars.
The company responsible for this was Simon marketing whose head of security just happened to be Jerry Jacobson. As the head of the mcdonald’s millions program, it was his job to make sure no winning game pieces got into the wrong hands, he ran a tight ship even checking employee shoes as they left the factory.
However, in 1989, temptation became too much. He snuck out a game piece for $25,000 and gave it to his stepbrother at a family wedding. Later, he would claim to have stolen the piece just to see if he could do it. Six years later in the 1995 prize drawing, a computer randomly selected a factory in Canada to make the game pieces.
Allegedly executives at Simon marketing ran the program until a chosen area in the United States. Having seen this take place, Jacobson decided that the game was already corrupt and went all in on his scheme. He started with family members and eventually grew to a network of mobsters, drug traffickers, convicts, family of Mormons and even psychics. Also, this guy Jerry Columbo who was involved with the whole scam was in a McDonald’s commercial over the course of 12 years.
People in Jerry’s Network when almost every grand-prize the key to his fraud was that his winners were nearly random. He once met a couple on a cruise ship and ended up giving them a winning ticket. You gave Jerry a little cash up front, he would give you your ticket to claim your prize for McDonald’s.
According to some people involved Jerry would often give away these winning tickets in plastic ziplock bags that frequently weren’t even closed. After his local butchers found out about it, he gave Jerry $2,000 for a $10,000 prize as they were neighbors and friends. He had someone out-of-state collect the prize to not arouse suspicion much like investigating a stock fraud or boiler scheme.
The FBI collected evidence slowly. Wiretaps, tailing cars they couldn’t just jump on the whole operation, they needed a more complete case file which by the year 2000 they had and shortly after approached McDonald’s the fast-food chain had been dealing with similar problems from the game’s inception once catching someone trying to steal over 3,000 pieces. At first, McDonald’s just wanted to end the game to save face but eventually the FBI convinced them to let it play out for one more six-month cycle.
This proved to be just enough time to catch everyone involved. But, the FBI knew juries reacted much better to vibrant,damning evidence. So, they decided to host a meet-up of previous grand prize winners in Las Vegas. This didn’t end up happening which is kind of unfortunate because it would have been really funny to see all these people pretend not to know each other.
McDonald’s and the bureau opted instead to visit the 2001 grand prize winner’s home on August 3rd and McDonald’s film crew arrived at Michael Hoover’s house in Westerly Rhode Island as the undercover agents behind the camera. It became apparent that he was in fact part of the fraud and over the next few days they arrested over 50 people. Jacobsen was eventually sentenced to 37 months in prison and forced to pay back 12.5 million in restitution.
Almost everyone else who as part of the scheme was convicted of mail, fraud and conspiracy to defraud. McDonald’s most of which served small prison sentences or had to pay back their winnings in the aftermath of this McDonald was sued a few times and ended up picking new winners forever, changing the way they ran such contests.
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