It seems that every year McDonald’s captures the wallets of consumers across America through its popular Monopoly Game. In fact, Monopoly quickly became one of the company’s most successful marketing campaigns. The game itself is a promotion by McDonald’s in combination with Hasbro, the maker of Monopoly, which employs many popular features of the game. On certain menu items, there are two removable tokens, which mimic the game board properties with unique codes. Customers need to obtain all the properties of a given color or all the railroads, and once they do so are able to redeem those codes for money. In some cases, the top prizes are worth more than $1 million; however, commonly single game pieces could be exchanged for a free burger or fries. In most cases, the promotion is exactly how it sounds, just a game, but one ex-cop found a way to rig the game and got away with millions of dollars.
On August 3rd, 2001, a man by the name of Michael Hoover received a knock on his door from a McDonald’s film crew. Previously he had called in saying that he had won the $1 million prize. There were only two ways to win the grand prize, and in total the odds were at 1 in 250 million. Inside his home, a McDonald’s spokesperson encouraged him to recall how he came in possession of the “Instant Win” game piece. He began to ramble on and told a story about finding the piece in a random PeopleMagazine. Slowly, the camera crew realized that his story was a lie, which was exactly what they were expecting. The camera crew itself was not actually from McDonald’s, but rather, undercover FBI agents.
Special Agent Richard Dent added the ramblings of Hoover to his collection of evidence. His job was to investigate public corruption and bank fraud, and in recent months, his primary cases revolved around the McDonald’s Monopoly Game. His investigation originally began in 2000, when he received a tip that the monopoly game had been rigged by an individual known as “Uncle Jerry”. According to the informant, individuals would pay “Uncle Jerry” in cash and he would supply them with stolen game pieces.
After learning about “Uncle Jerry”, Dent quickly alerted McDonald’s Corporate Office, and they immediately got involved. Working with corporate, Dent obtained information about the production of the game pieces and believed he had found his man in Jerry Jacobson, the Director of Security at Simon Wordlwide Inc., the marketing firm that produced the game pieces. What he instead found was that Jacobson was part of a larger conspiracy of individuals who had falsely claimed almost $25 million in cash and prizes. One member of the conspiracy had betrayed Jacobson, but Dent was not able to determine why that individual had done so or who they were.
In the earlier years of his career, Jacobson was considered to be extremely diligent, not letting any of his workers or drivers out of his sight to ensure none of the game pieces were stolen. He proceeded to lock winning pieces in vaults and personally cut out the high-value game pieces to be placed into tamper-proof envelopes. From there, he transported the pieces secretly to McDonald’s packaging factories across the nation. In addition, an independent auditor was with him wherever he went to further ensure his movements.
Things with Jacobson started turning south in 1989. At a family gathering in Miami, Jacobson slipped his step-brother a $25,000 game piece to prove that he had the power. When his butcher heard about that incident, he wanted in as well and Jacobson made it happen. The butcher had a distant friend of his claim the prize worth $10,000, but secretly transferred $2,000 to Jacobson for the stolen ticket, easy money for Jacobson.
From there, things got of out hand. In 1995, Jacobson was ordered by Simon Marketing executives to prevent the high-level prizes from going to Canada. At that point, he truly knew that the game was rigged and began exploiting the system to the fullest possible extent.
Shortly after the Canada issue arose, Jacobson received a package in the mail by mistake, which was a set of anti-tamper seals for game piece envelopes. He started to steal the game pieces by simply putting them in the envelopes in the men’s restroom at the airport. First, he stole a $1 million piece and documents containing evidence about the Canada issue. He stowed away both these in a safety deposit box. The tampering continued to escalate as he stole a $1 million piece for St. Jude’s and later a $200,000 piece for his butcher.
Jacobson met a man by the name of Colombo in an airport, who quickly became entrenched in the idea of game tampering. Colombo was a Mafia man and became involved with the tampering. Colombo eventually gave Jacobson the name of “Uncle Jerry”. With Colombo, the group of co-conspirators started to group, but the problem arose that he seemed to find them at random. While prize after prize came into McDonald’s, Jacobson broadened the conspiracy, and frustration from within McDonald’s ensued.
For years, Jacobson funneled millions of dollars into the pockets of his friends and co-conspirators. All the while, the FBI was on his tail. Eventually, the FBI got the evidence they needed and fanned out to make 8 arrests including Jerry Jacobson and seven of his co-conspirators. Immediately, the arrests captured media headlines and shocked McDonald’s customers across the world.
Soon thereafter, Dean presented Jacobson with the evidence. For over 12 years, he thought the plan was only in his head, but now it was all in front of him via the FBI. Jacobson immediately shared the story about Canada, which he believed to be his “ace in the hole”. Eventually, Jacobson agreed to a signed confession and plead guilty to three of the nine counts against him and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. The government also took everything he owned. In total, more than 50 defendants were convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy. Before being sentenced officially, Jacobson admitted that what he did was the biggest mistake of his life.
In a recent announcement Fox will be making a feature film of the McDonalds Monopoly incident, starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.