Every year, twice a year since 1987, McDonald’s customers participate in a worldwide game of Monopoly, where drink cups and food packaging contain prize pieces of the legendary Monopoly board. Like the real game, if you collect all the pieces of any given set, you get to reap the benefits. Cash prizes, vacation giveaways, cars, and free food off the McDonald’s menu are just a few prizes participants can win if they collect the correct pieces.
Well that’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway.
Though the odds of winning the game’s grand prize of $1 million dollars are just 1 in 250 million, one man organized a major criminal conspiracy to rob the company of $24 million in prizes.
Meet “Uncle Jerry” Jacobson, an ex-police officer and Simon Marketing’s (former) director of security. The same Simon Marketing in charge of producing the game pieces for the public.
After health problems ended his career as a police officer early, he managed to work his way to the top of the food chain at the marketing agency, where he was in charge of the distribution of the winning pieces. He would fly from distribution factory to distribution factory, randomly sliding the cash prizes in pallets of french fry containers and drink cups. For two years, he reportedly kept it clean. He would even keep his employees under a microscope, watching their every move to ensure a fair system. Jacobson reportedly went as far as checking each worker’s shoes when they left each day for stolen game pieces. He kept the winning pieces in a sealed vault, only taking them out when it was time to insert them into the random distribution facilities.
And then he slipped one family member a game piece worth $25,000. And then another $10,000 to a local butcher. From there, a snowball effect, where he became the face of a multi-million dollar crime ring.
After 12 years of fraud, one anonymous tip to the FBI uncovered the countless stolen pieces and prizes, and the juggernaut leader was finally taken down.
Jeff Maysh of the Daily Beast wrote a remarkable piece on the Monopoly scandal, including quotes from Jacobson, family members, and others involved.
One day in 1989, at a family gathering in Miami, Jacobson slipped his step-brother, Marvin Braun, a game piece worth $25,000. “I don’t know if I just wanted to show him I could do something, or bragging,” Jacobson later admitted, but he just needed “to see if I could do it.” When his local butcher in Atlanta heard that Jacobson was in charge of the McDonald’s Monopoly prizes, he said he’d like to win a prize. Jacobson boasted that he could make it happen, but it would look too suspicious because they were friends and neighbors. The butcher offered to find a distant friend to claim a $10,000 prize, and gave Jacobson $2,000 for the stolen ticket. It was easy money.
Jacobson would then dangle larger winning pieces for a greater portion of the winnings in return.
The $1 million winners, for example, passed the first $50,000 installment to Uncle Jerry in cash. Sometimes Uncle Jerry would demand cash up front, requiring winners to mortgage their homes to come up with the money. According to the informant, members of one close-knit family in Jacksonville had claimed three $1 million dollar prizes and a Dodge Viper.
One wiretap on Jacobson’s phone confirmed the news, which eventually led to eight arrests made, including Uncle Jerry himself.
But after installing a wiretap on Jacobson’s phone, he realized that his tip had led to a super-sized conspiracy. Jacobson was the head of a sprawling network of mobsters, psychics, strip club owners, convicts, drug traffickers, and even a family of Mormons, who had falsely claimed more than $24 million in cash and prizes.
Nineteen days later, on August 22, 2001, the FBI fanned out and made eight arrests, including Dwight and Linda Baker, John Davis, Andrew Glomb, Michael Hoover, Ronald Hughey, and Brenda Phenis. In a pre-dawn raid, FBI agents surrounded Jacobson’s red-brick home, crept up the garden path and knocked on his door. A shocked Jacobson was taken away in handcuffs and charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, his bond set a staggering $1 million. Staff at Simon Marketing were left in disbelief. How could the man who searched their shoes be guilty of theft?
There was no “Get Out Of Jail Free” card for Uncle Jerry. He was sentenced to 37 months in jail and was forced to pay $12.5 million in restitution.
Jacobson took the stand dressed in a blue golf shirt, looking tired and gray. One attorney described him as “a gigantic master criminal,” before he admitted to stealing up to 60 game pieces over a dozen years, totaling over $24 million in prizes. “All I can tell you is I made the biggest mistake of my life,” he said quietly, before agreeing to pay $12.5 million in restitution. The judge sent him to jail for 37 months.
You have to read the entire piece at the Daily Beast here. I promise it will be worth your time.