After McDonald’s launched its Monopoly game in 1987, customers flocked to the fast-food chain to collect the board game pieces that have a sticker on the soft drinks, and French fry boxes. The prizes range from free food, sports cars, and even a million dollars. But did McDonald’s customers really have a chance to win? That’s all because Jerome Jacobson recognized a flaw.
A Dream Cut Short
Jerome wanted more than anything to be a police officer since he was just a boy. His dream came to fruition when he was sworn into Hollywood Flordia’s Police Department in 1976. His career however not too long. After sustaining an injury on the job, Jacobson took an injury leave from the department while his wife, Marsha, took care of him day and night. However, the police department fired him due to his lack of being able to show up to work again.
A Trusted Security Agent
Jacobson reinvented himself and became a security auditor that worked for different accounting firms. He eventually oversaw a $500 million McDonald’s account and eventually got promoted to a higher position in the company. Jacobson was given the task of creating a theft-proof system for the fast-food chain’s Monopoly game. Jacobson used the company’s computer system to detect where in the country the prizes were.
Getting Rich Quick
Jacobson devised a very complicated plan. He would take the winning stickers, put them in an envelope and send them out to various destinations throughout the country.
Stolen Winning Game Piece Worth $25,000
After a year of working on the project with McDonalds Jacobson became all too addicted to the stealing.
As time went by Jacobson would refine his stealing tactics. McDonald’s began to suspect that some funny business was happening and accompanied all the employees involved with the monopoly game with daily audits. Jacobson was a woman. Therefore the only place he could switch the stickers was in the bathroom where she could not follow him.
Jacobson went further though. He had soon realized that no one was yet onto him and he decided to start pre-selling winning pieces to friends and acquaintances on his little own black market. Each winning prize had its own price tag, and only after the buyer transferred him the money, would Jacobson send him or her the piece.
Showing Off His Money
By the late 90s, Jacobson had a polished full proof system of distributing pieces around the country and selling them for at least 25,000 dollars a pop. Jacobson eventually began to splurge his money way too often, a bigger house, with nicer cars, and more vacations put him on the McDonalds radar, on top of all this he began to make friends in shady places.
Giving Winning Game Piece to a Member of An Infamous Crime Family
In 1995 Jacobson had been flying around the world a lot, all first class flights, where he could lounge up with some of the richest faces in the world. In one of his first-class lounge trips, Jacobson had run into Gennaro Langella of the Columbo crime syndicate. Jacobson made a deal that day with Gennaro to sell him the winning ticket for a brand new Dodge Viper.
Business with Columbo
What Jacobson did not know is that once you begin doing business with the mob, they do not leave you alone. Columbo then proceded to get fully involved with Jacobson in his stealing, and called the two “business partners.” And once you have the mob doing business with you, you start to enter police radar.
The $1 Million Winning Game Piece
By now Jacobson had made more money than he knew what to do with. That’s why when he got wind of the 1 million dollar prize sticker, he decided he would do something good for his community. Jacobson sent an anonymous envelope to the St. Judes medical center with his fingerprints all over it. St. Judes immediately called the police upon getting the sticker. This would spell the beginning of the end for the money grabbing campaign.
A Tragic Car Accident
This would only get worse for Jacobson after columbo tragically died in a car accident along with his wife while driving the Dodge Viper he “Won” from McDonald’s. Only the car was not won under Columbo’s name, an alias was used to claim the prize. Now the Police would see the Columbo was driving a car that someone else won from McDonald’s.
After losing his accomplish, Jacobson fell into a deep depression and stopped caring about doing things clean. He began to seek out investors, who he would sell fake stickers to, and then disappear with the money. Jacobson turned his business from just defrauding McDonald’s, to defrauding his possible buyers.
Jacobson’s life began to get really dark from there, the one police officer working American had become somewhat of a full-fledged crime boss, employing ex-cons from across the nation to help him run his schemes. But the next organization to join him will shock you to the bone.
The Mormon Church Joined Jacobson’s Team
Jacobson even said in court, “it was really easy to get people on board with me, the game kept going, and I could keep producing the big prizes. All I needed to do was promise them the million for the exchange of half a million for instance, and they would join right in with me.” That was the explanation when asked who he was able to get a high ranking member of the Mormon church to join his ranks of high investors.
Jacobson’s Greed Grew
Jacob by this point had become a constant substance abuser, and with the help of illegal drugs, his confidence appeared to come back to him. He was in a high of power and doing way more deals than he could keep track of each month, the organization and professionalism he once had disappeared, and it would only be a matter of time before he would be caught.
Jacobson’s highs quickly began to turn back into low’s and he started to feel increasingly paranoid. He thought that he was being followed by the police and the FBI. He was right to suspect, not because he was being followed, but little did he know he was about to be followed.
Tipping off the FBI
Special Agent Richard Dent worked at the FBI Field Office in Miami, Florida. Dent had received a complaint from McDonald’s that they suspected they were being defrauded in the competition. Dent made phone calls to his different sources on the field and got tipped off pretty quickly into Jacobson’s doing.
McDonald Execs Started Digging
Agent Dent knew that he needed to collect more evidence before taking out Jacobson. He first sent his agents to interview past winners. Effectively interrogating all of them to try to get some type of confession out about Jacobson. But that would not be the only way Dent would collect his evidence.
Becoming a Suspect
Agent Dent took it upon himself to create himself a back story, in which he impersonated a possible buyer, and got as close to Jacobson as he could. Effectively catching on the act itself.
Operation: Final Answer
The code name for the operation was “Operation Final Answer”, and more than 200 FBI officials were involved in making it happen. Jacobson still had no clue, but a small army of men and women were tracking his every move and documenting all his dealings.
Piecing it all Together
When the FBI came to McDonald’s with the information about the Jacobson dealings, they were shocked and horrified that one of their most trusted employees would do such a thing. Since they did not want bad publicity, McDonald’s decided they would only press charges against Richardson, and asked the investigators to be more lenient on the winners.
A Tough Call to Make
Special agent, Dent had some very tough decisions to make, was he going to arrest everyone involved for the greater good of the law, or give into McDonald’s request to keep the story under wraps so as to not give the mega-corporation bad Publicity?
Getting to the Bottom of the Story
Dent decided that if he made the amount that Jacobson was defrauding even bigger than the courts would be more interested in just getting Jacobson. So he gave the order to McDonald’s to run yet another year of Monopoly Prize.
Charged in Connection with the McStint
Finally, by August 2001 Dent had enough evidence to put Jacobson and his close accomplices behind bars. The once proclaimed millionaire and a former cop were now facing more than 100 years behind bars, with no possibility of parole.
Getting off Easy
Jacobson’s cartel of money launderers and criminals was so far reaching that the FBI had ended up inditing more than 50 people altogether. His sentencing was 100 years with the possibility of Parol after 50, a charge that the public thought was way too lenient.
“Biggest Mistake of My Life”
The Jacobson trial took place just one day before the tragic September 11th attack on the world trade center. Jacobson testified that this was the biggest mistake of his life and that he understood the magnitude of the charges against him, and he requested as lenient a sentence as possible.
All in the Bag
Despite being so sorry at the end of it all, Jacobson attempt to turn the ball back on McDonald’s, claiming that the fast-food chain had already rigged the game to only be relevant within the United States, quite a weak defense considering it had nothing to do with his case. After all two wrongs don’t make a right.
Living in Federal Prison
Jacobson was able to gain his way into a private federal prison where he could enjoy playing tennis, eating good food, and even having entertainment like T.V. and video games in his room.
Being Made into a Movie
Jerome Jacobson’s story sounds like a movie right? So much so that Hollywood stars Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck decided they would produce a movie about the whole heist. A movie they have yet to provide a release date for.
Out on Parole
Jerome Jacobson like most of the rich wealthy elite around the world was released for good behavior on early parole in 2005. Jacobson is now basically a free man. Free to explore the nation, and hopefully rehabilitated enough to make a sense for what he did.
Colombo’s Life After Incarceration
Between marrying a member of an infamous crime family and suffering the tragic loss of her husband, Robin Colombo lived a colorful life. Things only got more interesting during her 18-month prison sentence. While in jail, Colombo discovered the Bible. She devoured the religious text and decided to write her life story. In 2006, Colombo released her first book with Holden Leaves Publishing called From a Mafia Widow to God’s Child. Her writing is described as the “real, compelling story of one woman’s complete turn around through her faith in Jesus Christ.”
McDonald’s and Simon Marketing Sued Each Other
Things did not end there though. McDonald’s had lost a lot of money, and they needed to get it back from somewhere, they decided to go after the company that employed Jacobson in the first place. McDonald’s sued Simon Marketing for the tune of 100 million dollars in a lawsuit that is still pending today.
Shares Plunging 78 Percent
Simon Marketing had long worked with McDonald’s on a variety of projects. In addition to the Monopoly games, the marketing company even had its hands in the creation of the Happy Meal toys. Whether or not Simon Marketing was to blame, the company suffered greatly after Jacobson’s scheme was revealed. When news broke of the fraudulent activity, McDonald’s terminated every single contract it had with Simon Marketing. Shortly after, the companies’ shares plunged a whopping 78 percent to just 66 cents. McDonald’s wasn’t the only major corporation to pull the plug either.
Philip Morris Disconnecting
When news spread of the McDonald’s Monopoly scandal, another large client of Simon Marketing — Philip Morris, a leading tobacco company — became nervous and cut the firm off. Between McDonald’s and Philip Morris firing Simon Marketing, the firm was now without 70 percent of its sales. Together, these clients had been worth around $768 million to them. Following the crisis, Simon Marketing tried to portray itself as a reputable company that had, unfortunately, fell victim to a single rogue employee, however, not everyone agreed. “Where were the controls at Simon that would have prevented this?” asked fraud investigator Carl Pergola. “That kind of position should be rotated every year. Jacobson had access to millions of dollars of the company’s money.”
A Seventeen Million Dollar Lawsuit
After nearly two years in court, a settlement was finally reached. In the end, a federal judge dismissed McDonald’s claims that Simon Marketing broke their contract with the fast-food behemoth. The McDonald’s Corporation agreed to pay Simon Worldwide Inc. to settle a lawsuit over promotion games. The final settlement total was $16.6 million. Around $6.9 million went to the company, and the remaining $9.7 million was ordered to cover insurance proceeds.
Rigged Against our Neighbours
Jacobson wanted to get rich quick. However, something else motivated his grand scheme too. According to a feature in The Daily Beast, before Jacobson started stealing the winning game pieces, the game was already rigged against Canada. Reportedly, in 1995, a computerized prize draw selected a Canadian factory to distribute the high-value game pieces. When this happened, company executives at Simon Marketing re-ran the program numerous times until it landed in the United States. “Sooner or later somebody was going to be asking questions about why there were no winners in Canada,” Jacobson later said in court. While the ex-security auditor considered this piece of information a solid alibi, it still wasn’t enough to get him off without jail time.
Making up for the Scam
After Jacobson’s McDonald’s Monopoly scandal was revealed, the fast-food company worked tirelessly to win back customers’ loyalty. After issuing an apology, McDonald’s launched a giveaway with more than $10 million in cash prizes. While it’s not entirely clear how long the Monopoly game pieces weren’t circulating throughout Canada, the great white north did begin to see winners in 2012. It was this year that a man from Selkirk, Manitoba became an instant millionaire after finding a winning ticket on his morning coffee.
Recent Prize Winners
Whether or not you believe in superstitions, you can’t deny that McDonald’s Monopoly game seems cursed. For starters, Jacobson was able to rig the game in his favor for nearly 12 years before he was caught. If that wasn’t bad enough, some of the winners in recent years have been described as a PR nightmare. In one instance, a man won a big prize while in his Pizza Hut uniform. Another winner? A man who owned a Taco Bell. And we can’t forget about the homeless man who won the game and was later charged with beating his fiancee.
Be a Winner in 2018
With a scandal as big as this one, one might suspect that McDonald’s would pull the plug on the Monopoly game entirely. Instead, they’ve continued to roll out the game each other, and have pretty successfully avoided backlash from Jacobson’s actions. On February 15, 2018, McDonald’s teased its customers about the imminent return on its Monopoly games.
The Most Successful Fast-Food Chain in America
Despite Jacobson’s $24 million scheme, McDonald’s remains the highest-grossing fast-food chain in the United States. With more than 14,000 locations worldwide and $36.4 billion in sales in 2016 alone, Jacobson’s antics were no real threat to the food industry giant. McDonald’s continues to win customers over thanks to overhauling its menu. In 2016, they introduced all-day breakfast along with a revamped version of the Big Mac and a line of “Signature Crafted” sandwiches.