Remember McDonald’s Monopoly? Every time you went to for some golden arches delights, you were given a Monopoly ticket that you’d peel off your fries or cup of soda. They were color-coded, and if you were lucky enough to collect a set of winning tickets, then you would win a million dollars! Sounds too good to be true, right? Spoiler alert: It was. After awhile, people began to wonder who, if anyone, was actually winning the million dollar jackpot. One person took matters into his own hands. And now, there's an Feb. 3 HBO documentary all about it: McMillions.
The game went on from 1989 to early 2001, but eventually, the general public — and the FBI — realized something was Filet-O-Fishy about the people who were claiming their winnings. McMillions, produced by Mark Wahlberg, uncovers what really went on during this time period. Who were the masterminds? Was the mafia really involved? What's the true story behind the McDonald's Monopoly scandal?
What Is The McDonald's Monopoly Scam?
It all goes back to Jerry Jacobson (aka Uncle Jerry), an ex-cop who set up a scheme that involved selling winning tickets in exchange for a cut of the total prize. Jacobson got a job at a printing company and worked with Simon Marketing, where his job was overseeing the production of McDonald’s Monopoly tickets and sending them off to factories. He eventually got caught giving his stepbrother a ticket valued at $25,000. But by then he figured he could scale his actions into something much, much bigger.
Uncle Jerry was involved with some shady people, according to Business Insider, such as “mobsters, psychics, strip club owners, convicts, drug traffickers, and even a family of Mormons” who were all enveloped in the scheme. These people reportedly targeted regular people and essentially made a bargain with them: A winning ticket, for a kickback. According to USA Today, “there were almost no legitimate winners of the high-value game pieces,” and ultimately, McDonald’s lost $24 million.
Was The Mafia Really Involved In The McMillions Scam?
The whole setup started to play out like a Martin Scorsese film. Jacobson randomly met Gennaro Colombo, of New York’s Colombo crime family, in 1995. Colombo wanted in on the scam and helped Uncle Jerry find people who he could persuade to do business with him. It was with Colombo's help that Jacobson figured out they had to be very careful with making sure the “winners” didn’t all live in nearby cities or even states, so they’d have the “winners” either travel to get their winning tickets, or convince the individuals to use family or friends as proxies.
How Did The McDonald's Monopoly "Wins" Work?
Well, the people who went in on the scheme knew that it was shady. But the winners weren't criminal masterminds. James Lee Hernandez, the co-director of McMillions, told USA Today that the “winners” were “not necessarily villains.” One of participants in the scam, Gloria Brown, found herself dumbfounded when the unbelievable opportunity presented itself. The Daily Beast reported that Brown was propositioned at an Applebee’s in Jacksonville and was asked how much money she could come up with to be “eligible” to be part of the scheme. She later handed over $40,000 and was shown “a tiny bottle containing the $1 million game piece,” and was told they'd let her know about the rest of the “plan” later.
Since too many “winners” lived in Jacksonville, Brown went to South Carolina to find her winning ticket. Brown was driven to a McDonald’s and was coached what to tell them. She then filled out the prize forms and made it look like she actually had found the winning ticket in her car. This type of arrangement happened to many people. One butcher in Atlanta got involved and had his relative “win” a $10,000 prize, and gave Uncle Jerry a $2,000 cut. So basically: People were promised a winning ticket that would ensure they’d get a million dollars (or at least, a big chunk of money), and the puppet masters behind the scene asked for a cut of every single one of these “winning” tickets.
How Did The McDonald's Monopoly Scammers Get Caught?
It becomes a little strange when only people in a certain area of the country are “winning” millions of dollars. Even though Uncle Jerry and his network did their best to dilute the locations of the people who “won” the prizes, it was undeniable that there seemed to be a pattern. Customers were convinced the game was rigged, that maybe even the McDonald’s employees were keeping the tickets to themselves.
The FBI joined McDonald’s in an effort to put an end to it. In March 2000, the FBI received a tip: One of the winners, William Fisher, who had won the 1996 “Deluxe Monopoly Game,” was clearly a fraudulent winner. The rest, as they always say, was history. By 2001, around 50 people were known to be involved in the scheme — all of whom were arrested along with Uncle Jerry. He was then forced to fork over $12.5 million in earnings.
And the was the end of this wild McTale.