There Is A Good Reason You Have Never Heard Of This McDonald Monopoly Scam Before

Published on 09/06/2020
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Simon Marketing began what is now called the Monopoly contest back in 1987. This is the same group of people who created the iconic Happy Meal. Based on the numbers alone, it was a huge success. After all, this particular plan boosted its sales by a whopping 40%. McDonald’s seemed to be all too happy to try a different marketing tactic to achieve the same results. Since lotteries and casinos attract crime, Simon Marketing and McDonald’s didn’t want to get involved in any kind of fraud or theft. And so, they asked the Dittler Brothers – a well-established company that handled lottery tickets and postage stamps to print pieces for the scheme. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the foolproof plan they thought it would turn out to be.

There Is A Good Reason You Have Never Heard Of This McDonald Monopoly Scam Before

There Is A Good Reason You Have Never Heard Of This McDonald Monopoly Scam Before

They Thought It Was Foolproof

You will be surprised by the complex safeguards that Simon and Dittler implemented in an attempt to prevent counterfeit and forgery. High-value pieces, like the million dollars and the cars, were stored in a vault that only opened when two people entered a key code at the same time. The stickers were also made with watermarks and intentional imperfections that only showed themselves under black light. When the pieces were manufactured, they were first placed in an envelope that had a tamperproof seal. This is done before they could be placed on a Big Mac package or a soda cup. Only an employee called Jerome Jacobson could open them. Get ready because this is where the story really begins.

They Thought It Was Foolproof

They Thought It Was Foolproof

Meet Jerome Paul Jacobson

Jerome Paul Jacobson had always dreamt of being a police officer. He was born in Youngstown, Ohio in 1943, although he relocated to Miami as a teen. Sadly, unlucky injuries and chronic allergies put a stop to his dreams. He tried to join the Marines, but he got discharged during basic training thanks to high arches. In 1986, he joined the Hollywood Police Department in Florida but injured his wrist a year after that. In 1980, he went on a long medical leave and collapsed, leading to severe paralysis in his eyes, arms, legs, and respiratory system. He also found out that he had a rare neurological disorder, which was eventually identified as multiple sclerosis.

Meet Jerome Paul Jacobson

Meet Jerome Paul Jacobson

Working Together And Then Divorcing

Thanks to his illness, he had no choice but to leave the job. Marsha, his wife, went on a leave of absence to look after him as well. “I became his private nurse, I bathed him, massaged his muscles, fed him,” she said in an interview. The couple eventually relocated to Atlanta in 1981. While they were there, he recovered enough to find a job as a mechanic who built alternators for cars that he could not afford. On the other hand, she was a security auditor for an accounting firm called Arthur Young. Her assignment was at the Dittler Brothers, which is why she recommended Jerome for a position. But it looked like it was a mistake for them to work with each other. They kept fighting at work and ultimately divorced in 1983.

Working Together And Then Divorcing

Working Together And Then Divorcing

A New Career

Jacobson started a new career in private security under the employment of the Dittler Brothers. He soon climbed the ranks until he was the person in charge of supervising the production for Simon Marketing, a client of the company, together with their McDonald’s account worth $500 million. Those who knew him said that he marched through the printing operation with a little gut and slicked-back hair. He looked exactly like an ex-cop! This was a man who was quick with the jokes but still commanded respect. “He inspected workers’ shoes to check they weren’t stealing McDonald’s game pieces,” one of his colleagues said. On the other hand, a truck driver who delivered game pieces recalled, “I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without someone going with me.

A New Career

A New Career

An Offer Too Good To Refuse

He was able to impress Simon Marketing with his attention to detail and police background. In 1988, they made him an offer that he could not turn down. “It was my responsibility to keep the integrity of the game and get those winners to the public,” he told the authorities later on. It felt like the sky was the limit when he was placed in charge of securing the Monopoly promotion. He oversaw the creation of hundreds of millions of pieces. He watched as the winning pieces were printed, stored them in the vault, sealed the envelopes, and put them in his vest. At 5 o’clock in the morning, he got to work before the bi-annual Monopoly game to keep an eye on the Omega III supercomputer as it made the prize draw.

An Offer Too Good To Refuse

An Offer Too Good To Refuse

Enough To Bridge New York And Sydney

The printing presses were running 24 hours a day for three whole months. It used a hundred railroad cars of paper to make five hundred million game pieces. If you laid down every single paper ticket from one end to another, it would cover the distance between New York and Sydney. That is nearly two tickets for all the Americans in the world. Jacobson kept an eye on the technicians as they applied the “INSTANT WINNER!” stamp to the game pieces and added random watermarks to prevent forgery. The winning pieces were stored in a vault with a dual-entry combination lock and coded keypads. Jacobson was the one who cut out the game pieces and put them inside the envelopes. On top of that, he would seal the corners with a tamperproof sticker and put them in a secret vest that he himself invented.

Enough To Bridge New York And Sydney

Enough To Bridge New York And Sydney

How He Beat The System

On top of that, Jacobson himself delivered the big winning pieces. He would fly from one factory to another to deliver them to the packaging plants of the fast-food chain. He apparently came across the materials unintentionally. The Daily Beast said that a supplier accidentally sent him a package full of the metallic tamperproof seals instead! Since he knew everything about the system, he found out how to steal several pieces. A couple of sources say that he was inspired by the prediction of a psycho, who said that he was going to get a huge bonus. Before he arrived at the packaging plants, he would go to the airport bathrooms, take out the original seal on the envelope, swap out the winning pieces for normal ones, and leave a new seal on the envelope! The plan was not as foolproof as McDonald’s thought.

How He Beat The System

How He Beat The System

Pretty Generous For A Thief

Jacobson was cheating on the system that he was placed in charge of! But it was not his intention to simply make a lot of money. It was always his goal to look after his family. He gave a game piece worth $25,000 to Marvin Braun, his stepbrother. Since they had different last names, he did not think that it would cause any suspicion when redeemed. This plan worked! After this, Jacobson must have gotten more confident because he repeated the scheme, occasionally to his profit. Aside from family members, he also gave them to acquaintances who paid him and had a different person redeem the prize. His local butcher gave him $2,000 for a $10,000 piece. Meanwhile, his nephew paid $45,000 for a $200,000 one.

Pretty Generous For A Thief

Pretty Generous For A Thief

How He Reached New Heights

The scheme started to go beyond his inner circle as other conspirators started to join in on the fun. The scheme reached new heights when he met a man called Gennaro Colombo at the Atlanta airport in Georgia in 1995. He said that he was a part of the Colombo crime family in New York and went on to be the main co-conspirator. Colombo was the one who brought the scam to a new level altogether. Colombo was also the one to recruit many “winners” and gave Jacobson the “Uncle Jerry” nickname. Does that sound familiar to you? In case it has not dawned on you just yet, “Uncle Jerry” from McMillions is none other than Jerome Jacobson!

How He Reached New Heights

How He Reached New Heights

Meet The Mobster

Gennaro “Jerry” Colombo was born in Sicily but grew up in Brooklyn. He had been in charge of illegal gambling operations and strip clubs in South Carolina. He also happened to be related to Joseph Colombo, the head of the New York Mafia family. If you watched The Irishman, you might remember his attempted assassination during the Italian Unity Day rally in 1971. Frank, Jerry’s brother, said that his brother was something like a combination of either “Al Capone and Rodney Dangerfield” or “Marlon Brando and Joe Pesci.” When the two Jerry’s first met at the Atlanta Airport on that fateful day in 1995, Jacobson handed his new friend a prize piece that entitled him to a new Dodge Viper.

Meet The Mobster

Meet The Mobster

How The Mafia Does It

How amazing is it that Colombo showed up in an ad for the fast-food chain, waving a key to his Viper? This is how the mafia does it. But the truth is that he simply claimed the cash equivalent because he was not happy with the size of the sportscar. He was a big guy. Soon enough, he himself was giving his friends and family members tickets worth a million bucks. Of course, he made sure to take a cut for Jacobson and himself with every deal. Among the winners was his father-in-law. Robin, his wife, showed up in McMillions and talked about how she almost ate an M&M, which was a $1 million prize winner in a Mars chocolate bar contest operated by a different branch of Simon Marketing.

How A Mafia Does It

How The Mafia Does It

His New Recruiters

During the late ‘90s, Jacobson had been waiting to hop on board a cruise when he met Don Hart. He was from George and previously operated a trucking company. When he became a part of the scam, he introduced Andrew Glomb and Richard Couturier to Jacobson. The latter liked to give away the Monopoly pieces at parties. Meanwhile, Glomb was a guy who already served time in prison for transporting cocaine and preferred to give them away to people in desperate need of money. He gave one of them away to a guy who had been arrested for dealing 400 pounds of cocaine in 1999. Together with the other “recruiters,” the guys sold pieces to a number of “winners” over the years.

His New Recruiters

His New Recruiters

What Uncle Jerry Means

They tracked down people willing to buy the pieces and instructed them on how to claim the prizes. One time, he sold a piece worth a million dollars to Gloria Brown, one of his wife’s friends. On the side of a highway, he handed her a piece worth $40,000. Later, Brown talked about how Colombo gave her directions on what to say and asked her to lie about her residence to avoid raising suspicion. He drove her to a McDonald’s himself so that she can claim the prize. As they neared their destination, he called “Uncle Jerry.” In the Italian mafia culture, calling someone “uncle” is a way to show respect. This was the end for the man who put his money in strip clubs, fought off South Carolina local authorities trying to shut down his business, and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. You see, he got into a car incident.

What Uncle Jerry Means

What Uncle Jerry Means

He Became Overconfident

Before this happened, Jacobson was enjoying success with the scam. It must have made him very confident that nothing would go wrong. After all, he already mastered how to swap the winning tickets. Since he was accompanied by a female companion every time that he went to the packaging plants, he needed to get creative. Since his female chaperones could not go to the men’s room, he decided that it was the ideal place to pull off a very important part of the scam. He would open the envelopes and reseal them there and then. Because he had not gotten caught, he must have thought that he was untouchable. However, things changed for him when his greatest accomplice was no longer around.

He Became Overconfident

He Became Overconfident

The End Of Colombo

We do not know why, but Jacobson sent a ticket worth $1 million to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 1998. It could have been an effort to help him out should he get caught or a simple act of kindness. At any rate, it became national news. Around the same time, the nation found out about the death of Colombo. When the accident took place along the border between South Carolina and Georgia, he had been hoping to revive his marriage with Robin. His son had been in the same car but somehow came out with very minor injuries. Sadly, Colombo passed away in the hospital after two weeks. Instead of giving up on the scheme, Uncle Jerry tried to find new people to help him out instead.

The End Of Colombo

The End Of Colombo

A Desperate Mormon

This was how he recruited Dwight Baker, who was a real estate developer and an upstanding Mormon. Baker found himself in a rough patch after he got into a tractor accident and earned a spinal injury. Together with his wife and five kids, they had been collecting the Monopoly pieces. They had hoped that they would earn some winnings to pay off what Baker owed in back taxes. Aside from that, Baker gave the prize pieces that he got from Jacobson to his sister-in-law, his foster son, and others. They all set up phony accounts and addresses like the rest of the “winners.” The family made it seem like they resided in different areas of the country. Sadly, it turned out that the FBI already knew what was going on.

A Desperate Mormon

A Desperate Mormon

How It Started To Unravel

Special Agent Richard Dent, who had been based in Jacksonville, got an anonymous tip in 2000. This was how the FBI found out that three of the recent winners were all connected. They were all linked to a man called “Uncle Jerry.” Back then, he was already handling many other cases and did not follow up on it right away. However, Doug Mathews, his partner, found a note on the desk and became intrigued. It said, “McDonald’s Monopoly fraud?” Not long after that, the FBI found out that there was something fishy happening within the game. Let us spell it out for you: there was a one in 250 million chances that you would bring the jackpot. There was no way that three people who knew each other would all win.

How It Started To Unravel

How It Started To Unravel

The Start Of Operation Final Answer

The FBI went through a couple of names for the operations. After rejecting the Hamburglar and many ones that started with “Mc,” they settled on “Operation Final Answer.” It looks like they were fans of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which had been very popular at the time. The show also co-sponsored the contest. At the time, the FBI did not know if any of the McDonald’s corporate employees were part of the scam. However, the FBI eventually explained the situation to the company and shared the next steps. If you wanted to understand what sort of person Agent Mathews is, we want you to know that he donned a gold suit when they met with the top security team of the fast-food chain. He did this all because he thought that it was going to be funny!

The Start Of Operation Final Answer

The Start Of Operation Final Answer

What The Operation Entailed

The operation expanded and involved many undercover agents and wiretaps. Amy Murray, a marketing employee of McDonald’s, joined the team to launch a ploy that involved Mathews as an undercover agent among others. They pretended to be a TV production crew working on a TV commercial campaign by talking to the winners. They taped the jackpot winners as they told their stories on what it was like to win the prizes. Agent Mathews had a lot of fun doing this even though the fake winners found it awkward to do the fake interviews. On the other hand, Murray felt awkward but pulled through in the end. The “winners” included the father of Robin Colombo and a Florida man who bought a boat with his winnings. Fair play to him for calling it Ruthless Scoundrel!

What The Operation Entailed

What The Operation Entailed

Evidence And Lies

As you might have predicted, the interviews were riddled with lies. However, this gave the agents evidence that they could use in the trial and let the case move forward. The whole scam unraveled when the fast food restaurant delayed the delivery of the prize money at the request of the FBI. This was exactly what they needed to catch the conspirators. It worked since the perpetrators started to panic and talked about it among themselves on tapped phone lines. This was just what the Feds wanted to keep the investigation going and eventually put the conspirators behind bars. The Daily beast said that it took 25 agents to track down 20,000 phone numbers and record 235 cassette tapes of telephone calls.

Evidence And Lies

Evidence And Lies

Finally Arresting The Conspirators

Agent Dent, the guy who did not follow up on the investigation right away, convinced the fast food chain to start a fake Monopoly promotion. This was going to be fake, of course. It would help the FBI get the final evidence needed to put an end to the whole thing. Their plan was full of legal risks, but the company was already aware that the game had been compromised. The decision to start a new game had been worth it since this was how they first found out about Andrew Glomb. If Colombo had been alive, he probably would have come next. The FBI was able to arrest eight key suspects on August 22, 2001. Jerome Jacobson was also charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Finally Arresting The Conspirators

Finally Arresting The Conspirators

A Media Frenzy

The arrests started a media frenzy. Here is what Attorney General John Ashcroft said when he spoke to the media: “Those involved in this type of corruption will find out that breaking the law is no game.” As the news came out, Americans across the nation were shocked to hear that they were all duped for such a long time. Jacobson soon became the butt of the jokes. Here is what one newscaster told him: “Are you worried the police are going to take him down the station and give him a grilling?… I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.” As the suspect, Jacobson was interrogated for six hours. Agent Dent showed him the evidence that they had on him. In the weeks that followed, he gave the FBI documents that he believed would prove that Simon Marketing rigged the contests to swindle customers in Canada.

A Media Frenzy

A Media Frenzy

He Was Given Nine Charges

Jacobson had nine charges that came with a five-year penalty, so investigators told him that he was going to be 104 years old when he could get out. In reference to his multiple sclerosis diagnosis, he simply said, “I wouldn’t be getting out.” In exchange for his testimony and confession in court, he pleaded guilty to three charges and was handed 15 years behind bars. On top of that, he had to pay back the money he owed. The total was $12.5 million! In Lawrenceville, his neighbors watched as his vehicles were all taken away by the authorities. But what happened to the other people involved in the scam?

He Was Given Nine Charges

He Was Given Nine Charges

The Fate Of The Eight

Eight people were arrested by the FBI on August 22, 2001. This includes Jacobson, Hoover, and Glomb. Baker, together with his spouse and sister-in-law, was also arrested. The case involved the indictment of 51 people on charges of conspiracy and fraud. The Mormon community also excommunicated Baker, although his foster son George Chandler was able to have his conviction overturned. After all, a court agreed with him when they failed to disprove the claim that Baker simply conned him into joining the scam. Meanwhile, Baker’s wife and sister-in-law only got a probation as did the other “winners.” They also have to pay back the prize money at $50 per month. It was a different story for the “super-recruiters” like Couturier, Glomb, and Hart. They all got major fines, as well as a year and a day in prison.

The Fate Of The Eight

The Fate Of The Eight

Robin Colombo Found God

According to Robin Colombo, the parents of her late husband had been the ones to snitch on them. This was their revenge for trying to keep him away from them. Richard Couturier, who slept in his car as the trial was going on, informed the court that a man in the mob told him not to mention the name of Don Hart because he did not want to be “whacked.” Before the judge handed down her sentence, Robin saw some of the paperwork and assumed that she was going to return to prison. All of a sudden, she yelled and made a dash for the door. However, court marshals managed to overpower her before she could even get to an outer corridor. She got 18 months behind bars. While she was there, she found religion and immortalized her life in “From a Mafia Widow to Child of God.”

Robin Colombo Found God

Robin Colombo Found God

Why It Has Largely Been Forgotten

You must be wondering why the scandal has not received a lot of attention. You see, the trial started just a day before the 9/11 tragedy. People soon forgot the McDonald’s scam in the wake of the disaster. Looking gray and tired in a golf shirt, Jacobson took the stand and admitted that he stole up to 60 game pieces. He admitted, “All I can tell you is I made the biggest mistake of my life.” The judge gave him 37 months in jail and ordered him to pay back the $12.5 million that he owed. Jacobson also shook hands with the person who brought him to justice. Agent Richard Dent quietly went back to work on other white-collar crimes but has since retired. In 2005, Jacobson got out of jail and repaid the money. Now in his seventies, he continues to live in Georgia.

Why It Has Largely Been Forgotten

Why It Has Largely Been Forgotten

How McDonald’s Handled The Negative Publicity

While McDonald’s continues to be a huge presence across the globe, they did not leave unscathed. They faced a number of lawsuits in the years that followed. Simon Marketing and McDonald’s sued one another for breach of contract in 2001. The fast-food company eventually agreed to pay the marketing company $16.6 million. Burger King also joined in on the lawsuit game. More than 1,000 franchises of the burger restaurant chain filed a class-action lawsuit for unfair promotion and false advertising against McDonald’s for running a compromised game. In the end, however, Burger King dropped the lawsuit. In an effort to make up for all the bad PR, McDonald’s also gave away prizes worth $25 million. This included handing out $1 million prizes to individuals at random locations.

How McDonald’s Handled The Negative Publicity

How McDonald’s Handled The Negative Publicity

A Promotions Task Force

While McDonald’s continues to run Monopoly sweepstakes promotions, it has created an “independent promotions task force” to prevent similar conspiracies from happening in the future. The scheme was not the first or last time that a person rigged a competition that was meant to rely on luck. In 1998, a couple of years prior to the trial, a Nevada Gaming Control Board agent was arrested on charges of racketeering. This person designed a computer program to game slot machines in Reno, Las Vegas, and Lake Tahoe. In 2010, a Multi-State Lottery Association director also came up with a computer code that would cheat the random-number generators. This was how he “predicted” the winning lottery numbers.

A Promotions Task Force

A Promotions Task Force

The Aftermath Of The Controversy

The most recent development in the story is the HBO series, although there is also a chance that a movie will be created by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The former is going to star in it, while the latter is going to be the director. However, they have yet to announce more details about it. We will probably learn more about it in the near future. In 2019, a British Labor Party politician by the name of Tom Watson asked McDonald’s to stop its Monopoly campaign and its efforts to encourage people to buy fast food. “It is clear that McDonald’s Monopoly is a danger to public health,” he said. However, this did not stop the company from running it anyway. It said that people could find puzzle pieces from their salads and carrot bags, explaining, “Customer choice is at the heart of everything we do.”

The Aftermath Of The Controversy

The Aftermath Of The Controversy

A Couple Of Interesting Wins

There had been a few interesting “wins” while Jacobson was running the Monopoly scam. In 1988, a Florida cop struggled to pay his bills said that he discovered a winning game piece in the squad car. The following year, a family had been living only 43 miles where Jacobson lived and brought home $250,000. Let us not forget about the “impostor” M&M candy, much like the one that Robin Colombo nearly swallowed by accident. However, this involves a Florida college student who bagged a prize worth $1 million. However, the weird thing was that he found it even before Mars announced the contest! A devout Baptist, the boy’s dad said that it would have been sinning if his son bought a lottery ticket. “The Lord doesn’t approve of gambling,” his dad said. “But a candy contest is something different.”

A Couple Of Interesting Wins

A Couple Of Interesting Wins

They Are Still In Touch

Glomb, who was one of the “super recruiters” in the McDonald’s ring, had been philosophical about the whole thing. “I’m not one of those people who are mad at the FBI,” he said, “It was a game, and I lost.” He is in touch with Jacobson, who has not been in the best of health. “I hate to say it, but I’d probably do it again for the same reason,” admitted Glomb. “Every time I talk to Jacobson, I always tease him, I say, ‘You got any tickets?’” While the game turned out to be a huge hit among consumers, the truth was that no one truly brought home the grand prizes. It had all been orchestrated. This was what shocked Brian Lazarte and James Lee Hernandez, the filmmakers of the HBO documentary series, so much.

They Are Still In Touch

They Are Still In Touch

They Had To Tell The Story

In 2012, James Lee Hernandez found out about the story. The filmmaker was shocked to learn that no one won the promotional game in a legitimate way. He went down the rabbit hole as he tried to learn everything he could about the scandal. Right away, he knew that people would love to hear about this story. What made it even more interesting is the fact that it took place just a day before the 9/11 tragedy. You can learn more about it by watching the six-part documentary series that he created with Brian Lazarte. McMillions is merely the first project of a production company owned by Stephen Levinson, Archie Gips, and Mark Wahlberg. It is called Unrealistic Ideas. They want to focus on “non-scripted” programs. According to the filmmakers themselves, McMillions is like “true crime meets the Cohen brothers.”

They Had To Tell The Story

They Had To Tell The Story

He Worked At McDonald’s At The Time

The series talks about the complex conspiracy that involves characters that are not only peculiar but also hilarious. In fact, fans have said that it felt more like a comedy than a proper documentary! But how did the filmmakers even think of making a series out of the scam? “It started with me laying in bed, looking at Reddit on my phone before falling asleep,” explained Hernandez. As he was going through various posts, he found a “TIL” one that caught his interest: “Today, I learned: Nobody really won the McDonald’s Monopoly game.” Hernandez has said that he enjoyed this game when he was little. In fact, his first job had been at a branch of the fast-food joint while the game was still going on.

He Worked At McDonald’s At The Time

He Worked At McDonald’s At The Time

Eager To Learn More About It

The post only showed a small blurb from a Jacksonville newspaper. He wanted to learn more about what happened but could not find a lot of information. In the following year, he took matters into his own hands and started to research some more about it. He even put a Freedom of Information Act with the U.S. Government! It took more than three years, but he finally got the information that he wanted. “I was able to find the prosecutor and agents who worked the case. I reached out to them, reached out to FBI headquarters. The agents said this was one of their favorite cases, but nobody had ever contacted them about this, and they would love to work with me on this,” he recounted.

Eager To Learn More About It

Eager To Learn More About It

They Got Lucky

Lazarte and Hernandez discussed if they should do a feature film on an amazing story that had yet to be told. Soon enough, it became clear to them that they had a huge story in their hands. It garnered a lot of attention when they started to film it and speak to the “winners,” agents, and federal prosecutor. “It started to grow beyond our expectations, to the point where we found ourselves struggling to see how we could fit this into a 90-minute movie. We started to imagine this as a series,” recounted Lazarte. The fraud thing is already intriguing enough on its own, but the viewers would be bored if the story is not relayed in an interesting way. Luckily, this was not a problem at all for the filmmakers.

They Got Lucky

They Got Lucky

Not What We Had In Mind

What surprised them the most had been the FBI agents. You probably think of a boring and stuffy individual when you imagine these people. After all, that is what we keep seeing in movies and TV shows. However, Doug Matthews proved all of us wrong. Just so you know, the way he is in the show is exactly what he is like in real life. The tone of the show deviated from the style of the regular “true crime” documentary. “The tone was something we discussed a great deal. We struggled to find any other true-crime series or documentary series that really straddled this tone of comedic but also very serious in the way we wanted to do,” said Lazarte. If you have yet to watch it, there is no time like the present!

Not What We Had In Mind

Not What We Had In Mind

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