When McDonald’s launched its Monopoly game in 1987, customers flocked to the fast-food chain to collect the board game pieces stuck to soft drinks, french fry containers, and the like. Prizes ranged from free Filet-O-Fish sandwiches and gift cards to Dodge Vipers and Jamaican vacations. The grand prize though was a cool $1 million.
But McDonald’s customers never really had a chance to win. That’s because one man recognized a flaw in the game’s procedures and crafted an elaborate plan to win millions of dollars. Learn the story of how Jerome Jacobson landed the fast food chain in the middle of a $24 million legal battle.
Jerome Jacobson Always Wanted To Be a Cop, But His Dream Was Cut Short
Born in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1943, Jerome Jacobson had wanted to be a police officer since he was just a kid. His dream became a reality when he was sworn into Florida’s Hollywood Police Department in 1976. But Jacobson’s career was short-lived. In 1980, while on medical leave for an injured wrist, he collapsed with severe, widespread paralysis and was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder.
Jacobson took a leave of absence from the department while his wife, Marsha, took care of him around the clock. But because he was unable to return to his job, the police department fired him. Jacobson seemed like a trustworthy guy with a background in law enforcement.
But after leaving the police force, he went in an entirely different direction that involved a conspiracy.
He Started a New Career As a Security Auditor
Jacobson forged a new career path for himself as a security auditor for an accounting firm. He was assigned to a client called Simon Marketing and oversaw their $500 million McDonald’s account. Jacobson was so dedicated to his job that Simon Marketing took notice and recruited him to join their team.
In his new position with Simon Marketing, Jacobson was entrusted to create a theft-proof system for the fast-food chain’s Monopoly game. But his new position also gave him an inside look at how the game was produced. Now he could watch as the printing presses cranked out half a billion game pieces. He could also watch as the supercomputer selected the winning prizes.
As you’ll soon see, Jacobson would use his power to his advantage.
He Wanted To Get Rich Quick
Jacobson’s job was to create a theft-proof system for McDonald’s Monopoly game and he took his duties seriously at first. With his approved system, he and an assistant auditor would carefully cut out the high-value game pieces and slip them into tamper-proof envelopes, which he would hide in a secret compartment in one of his jackets. He then transported the winning pieces to McDonald’s packaging facilities throughout the country. When he arrived at his destination, he would summon a forklift containing french fry containers, hide the winning pieces, and send them out.
But despite making an attractive salary working with one of America’s largest corporations, Jacobson wanted to get rich quick. And he knew McDonald’s Monopoly was his chance.
He Stole a Winning Game Piece Worth $25,000
After a year of working with the company, Jacobson was overwhelmed by the temptation to steal. While hanging out with family in 1989, he casually slipped a $25,000 winning game piece into his step-brother’s hand.
The theft continued. When his local butcher mentioned how he’d love to win a prize, Jacobson couldn’t stop himself from bragging that he could make it happen if he wanted to. Intrigued, the butcher suggested that he could find a distant friend to claim a winning game piece worth $10,000 in exchange for giving Jacobson a kickback of $2,000. Money-hungry, Jacobson agreed.
You won’t believe how his stealing escalated.
Jacobson’s Stealing Intensified
One afternoon in 1995, a supplier from Hong Kong accidentally sent Jacobson the anti-tamper seals for the McDonald’s Monopoly game-piece envelopes. With the anti-tamper seals now in his possession, he could easily swipe the winning game pieces while they were en route to the factories across the United States.
With Jacobson’s new routine, he would go into airport bathrooms so the female auditor he traveled with couldn’t follow him. Then, he would take off the seal, grab the winning game pieces, and replace them with losing ones before sealing the envelopes again.
Up next, the ingenious way Jacobson made the winners look authentic.
He Recruited “Investors”
Jacobson knew if he wanted to keep up his scheme, he needed a foolproof plan. If all of the “winners” were coming out the same area, it would look far too suspicious. To avoid this, Jacobson would find accomplices, which he referred to as his “investors.”
His investors were typically friends of friends and family members, who would pay him a lump sum of cash in exchange for a winning game piece. The investors would travel to a location selected by Jacobson to “win” their prize. He would meticulously coach the “winners” on what to tell the McDonald’s staff and executives. In one instance, Jacksonville-resident Gloria Brown paid Jacobson $40,000 and flew to South Carolina to “win” her prize. Brown made it appear as if she lived with her cousin here so things wouldn’t look suspicious.
Jacobson Wasn’t Shy About Showing Off His Money
By the late ‘90s, Jacobson was stealing almost all of the big-prize game pieces and pocketing a significant amount of cash from his “investors.” With numerous people in his family tree involved in his scheme, Jacobson and his extended family were building a multi-million-dollar fortune.
Jacobson wasn’t shy about his growing net worth either. The security auditor was buying cars and real estate whenever he pleased, wearing expensive suits, eating at steakhouses, and going on luxurious vacations. Still, Jacobson was hungry for even more money.
As you’ll see, he would meet a business partner that promised to help him earn even more.
Jacobson Gave a Winning Game Piece To a Member Of An Infamous Crime Family
While sitting in the Atlanta airport one day in 1995, Jacobson struck up a conversation with another traveler named Gennaro Colombo. Colombo, he learned, was part of the infamous Colombo crime family in New York and had spent the last few years operating a strip club in South Carolina.
The two were intrigued by each other’s line of work. Both men had internal desires to find ways to cheat the system. With their contact information exchange, soon enough, Jacobson shipped Colombo a winning game piece. The prize? A brand new Dodge Viper.
Jacobson and Colombo Went Into “Business” Together
Jacobson and Colombo’s friendship grew, and before long, the new friends were business partners of sorts. Colombo would regularly fly about the country with specifically-selected friends who would then “find” high-value game pieces thanks to Jacobson’s jerry-rigging
Jacobson, who had become close with Colombo’s wife, Robin, sent winning game pieces to her and her family members. Over the next year, Robin, as well as Robin’s father and brother-in-law, all became millionaires. Each time, sending cash kickbacks to Jacobson, who had now earned himself the nickname “Uncle Jerry.”
Things were good for the partners in crime, but no one could foresee a tragic accident that was about to happen.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Received a $1 Million Winning Game Piece
Things only got stranger in November 1995. While working a shift as a donations clerk at the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee, Tammie Murphy found a bright red envelope. While Murphy initially thought it was junk mail, when she opened the envelope, she found a tiny Monopoly game piece inside. The prize was $1 million. Murphy contacted McDonald’s officials who quickly came to the hospital to examine the game piece. It was real.
An investigation turned up few answers and the identity of the generous donor wasn’t uncovered until years later.
Colombo Died In a Tragic Car Accident
As if Jacobson’s saga didn’t already read like a movie script, Colombo tragically died in a car accident. The couple had been having marital issues for some time and was looking for a fresh start in southern Georgia. While driving to look at a piece of land one day in the spring of 1998, they were involved in a high-speed car accident. Robin was behind the wheel and suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Colombo passed away at the hospital.
But just because Colombo was gone, didn’t mean Jacobson was ready to retire from his life of crime. He was quick to get out there and start recruiting new investors. And first on his to-do list was to find a replacement for Colombo.
Up next, how Jacobson fooled some of his accomplices.
Jacobson Fooled Some Of His Accomplices Into Believing They Were Helping Him Find Real Winners
Not long after Colombo’s tragic passing, Jacobson met Richard Couturier. Couturier owned a chain of fried-chicken restaurants and was fooled into believing he was helping Jacobson find real winners for the McDonald’s Monopoly game.
Couturier started recruiting random people he met to “win” high-value game pieces. Through 1999, he gave out 10 winning game pieces, with prizes including cars and large cash values. Two of those game pieces were worth $1 million each.
He Recruited An Ex-Convict
As Jacobson continued to recruit investors, his cast of characters become even more colorful. In late 1999, he was introduced to Andrew Glomb, a Florida resident with a sketchy past. Glomb was a gambler who had served 12 years in prison for shipping cocaine on a flight between Miami and Dallas.
He jumped at the opportunity to join Jacobson’s operation and was soon giving winning game pieces to old friends from his days of trafficking drugs. In one instance, he gave a $1 million game piece to a man who had pleaded guilty to distributing more than 400 pounds of cocaine years before.
Dwight Baker, a Well-Respected Member of the Mormon Church Joined Jacobson’s Team
Dwight Baker, a well-respected Mormon and family man, was also Jacobson’s real estate agent. The two became close over time and when Baker told Jacobson of his financial struggles, the McDonald’s security auditor let him in on his little secret and offered to help.
Baker was skeptical, but with his financial struggles getting worse by the day, he found an unsuspecting friend who helped him cash in a $1 million game piece. While Baker intended to cash his winnings and return to a normal life, he too was overwhelmed by the temptation to snag more high-value game pieces.
Baker’s Greed Grew
It wasn’t long before Baker grew aloof about his greed. Soon enough, he gave a $1 million winning game piece to his friend Ronald E. Hughey, and a $500,000 winning game piece to his wife’s sister Brenda Phenis.
Learning the ins and outs from Jacobson, Baker made sure to cover his tracks. When he gave out any stolen game pieces, he also included detailed instructions on how the “winners” were to set up a new life in another state, claim their winnings, and keep quiet.
Jacobson Grew Paranoid and Contacted a Psychic
At this point, Jacobson had been stealing winning game pieces for years. His “winners” spanned the United States, and were now appearing in McDonald’s commercials and advertisements talking about their “wins.” Jacobson, who was usually aloof in his demeanor, grew paranoid. The stakes were higher than ever, and for the first time since starting his operation, he was stressed. So he consulted a psychic. Naturally, he paid the fortune teller with a $50,000 winning game piece.
The psychic didn’t see anything concerning in Jacobson’s immediate future. But as you’ll soon see, the psychic was wrong.
Someone Tipped Off The FBI
Special Agent Richard Dent worked at the FBI Field Office in Jacksonville, Florida when he was assigned to the McDonald’s Monopoly case in 2000. He had been tipped off by an anonymous informant who claimed that William Fisher, a man who had won the $1 million prize during the 1996 Deluxe Monopoly Game, was a fraud.
The anonymous informant also added that the whole game had been rigged by an insider known as “Uncle Jerry.” But this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Special Agent Dent and McDonald Execs Started Digging
Special Agent Dent contacted Amy Murray, a McDonald’s spokesperson, and the two started digging. First, they reached out to Fisher and asked him about his win. Fisher, who was living in Jacksonville, Florida told Murray that he won the prize while living in New Hampshire for a year.
But there was a problem. Property records and electricity bills showed that he had been living in Florida all along. Moreso, bank statements showed that a woman named Gloria Brown — another McDonald’s Monopoly winner — had been rerouting $50,000 checks to the Jacksonville area.
Jacobson Becomes a Suspect
As Special Agent Dent began piecing the evidence together, he reported his concerns to McDonald’s Illinois headquarters. The executives were distraught and agreed to help the FBI with the case. The McDonald’s executives faxed Dent a list of past winners and explained that the game’s pieces were produced in Los Angeles by Simon Marketing and then printed at a Georgia-based firm. It didn’t take long for the FBI to look to Simon Marketing’s director of security: Jerome “Jerry” Jacobson.
Dent thought this cause would be easy, but after wiretapping Jacobson’s phone, he quickly discovered Uncle Jerry wasn’t working alone.
Operation: Final Answer
With the investigation ramping up, Special Agent Dent named the case Operation: Final Answer. With the help of 25 agents across the United States, Dent and his team tracked more than 20,000 phone numbers and recorded nearly 250 hours of conversations amongst those suspected to be involved.
McDonald’s spokesperson Amy Murray began calling the winners to ask if they wanted to appear in commercials promoting the game and then relayed any information to Dent.
Putting The Pieces Together
When McDonald’s spokesperson Amy Murray called Ronald E. Hughey, one of the “winners,” and asked him to appear in a commercial, he denied and blamed it on his depression. While his excuse wasn’t exactly unbelievable, Dent discovered Hughey’s “Tennessee” phone number was just a call-forwarding device. In reality, Hughey lived in a small suburb in South Carolina — mere miles from George Chandler, another “winner.”
Things only fell further through the cracks when a woman Brenda Phenis claimed her prize. Despite Baker helping her acquire a new apartment, mailing address, phone number and bank account in a different state, Dent discovered that she had formerly lived in a small town in South Carolina. As Dent mapped the locations of the winners, they all lived within miles of each other.
Can you guess whose home was at the center of the map?
Jack Greenberg, McDonald’s CEO, Had a Tough Call to Make
Special Agent Dent and his team of FBI agents had enough evidence to snag Jacobson and his team of accomplices — almost. In order to seal the deal, they needed one more Monopoly game. By now, McDonald’s CEO Jack Greenberg (pictured above) was well aware that the game had been severely compromised and had thought about calling everything off.
In Greenberg’s mind, running the Monopoly game while knowing it was corrupt sounded like a lawsuit waiting to happen. But he also knew that bringing Jacobson to justice was the right thing to do.
The Nail In The Coffin
Jack Greenberg gave Special Agent Dent and the FBI the go-ahead to run one more Monopoly game. And so, in July 2001, McDonald’s introduced the “Pick Your Prize Monopoly” game. Just a few weeks later, Jacobson and Baker were driving to Texas with a $1 million game piece. The men were meeting with Hughey, who would then hand it off to his friend, John Davis.
An FBI surveillance team tailed the men south where they handed over the winning game piece in exchange for $70,000. Amy Murray called Dent a week later to say that someone had claimed the $1 million prize. His name was John Davis.
Eight People Were Charged In Connection With the McStint
Finally, in August 2001, with enough evidence built around the case, the FBI made eight arrests, including Dwight Baker and his wife Linda, John Davis, Andrew Glomb, Ronald Hughey, and Brenda Phenis. Jacobson was handcuffed and charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud. His bond was set at $1 million.
In total, Jacobson had nine charges mounted against him, each of which carried a five-year penalty meaning he’d be over 100 years old by the time he was released. He agreed to plead guilty to three counts and sign a confession statement in exchange for 15 years in prison. All of his possessions, including numerous new vehicles, boats, and property, were seized by the government.
Jacobson and His Accomplices Got Off Pretty Easy In the End
Jacobson’s scandalous web was far-reaching. In the end, over 50 people were indicted on conspiracy and mail fraud charges. Surprisingly, many of the individuals who were involved got off relatively easy.
Colombo’s wife Robin, was sentenced to 18 months in jail and tried to evade time. Jacobson’s super recruiters were sentenced to one year and one day in prison and slapped with hefty fines. Baker was excommunicated from the Mormon church, but he, his wife (pictured above), and Brenda Phenis only received probation for their involvement. Many of those involved had their convictions overturned by an appeals court.
Up next, what Jacobson thinks of his crimes.
Jacobson Says He Made the Biggest Mistake of His Life
The official trial took place on September 10, 2001. Just a day before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania, the media quickly forgot about the McDonald’s Monopoly scandal.
In the end, Jerome Jacobson was sentenced to just three years in prison. He did, however, have to pay $12.5 million in restitution. “All I can tell you is I made the biggest mistake of my life,” he said quietly to the judge and jury. Before leaving the courtroom, he shook Special Agent Richard Dent’s hand.
He Thought He Had An Alibi
Jacobson may have accepted his fate, but not before he tried his hardest to cover his criminal tracks. During his trial, he had an alibi up his sleeve, which he was sure would get him off scot-free.
According to Jacobson, before the McDonald’s Monopoly game even started, Simon Marketing had rigged the system so only winners in the United States would be selected. The game was supposed to be open to all citizens in the United States and Canada. The judge and jury didn’t believe Jacobson’s claims. When that didn’t work, he said he was the anonymous donor who had sent the $1 million ticket to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He hoped his “good” deed would reduce his sentence, but again, the judge and jury didn’t care.
Who Turned In Uncle Jerry?
While the anonymous informant’s identity was never revealed, Robin Colombo told The Daily Beast that she believes it was her in-laws who tipped off the FBI. Robin felt uneasy around her in-laws following the death of Colombo and believe his parents thought she caused the fatal car accident on purpose and wanted her to suffer.
Robin also added that she is certain her in-laws told the FBI that her father, William Fisher, as well as her cousin and friend, Gloria Brown, had been given winning McDonald’s Monopoly game pieces illegally.
Jacobson’s McDonald’s Monopoly Scandal Is Being Made Into a Movie
Jerome Jacobson’s incredible story reads like a captivating, fictional novel — so it’s not surprising that the McDonald’s Monopoly scandal is being made into a movie. And who better to do it than longtime acting pals Ben Affleck and Matt Damon?
Affleck will direct the crime thriller and Damon will star as Jacobson. The duo has already teamed up with the writers of Deadpool for the film, which is rumored to have been in the middle of a bidding war amongst Steve Carell, Robert Downey Jr., Kevin Hart, Netflix, and others. With the FBI, mafia bosses, and a Big Mac or two, we’ll definitely be heading to the theaters when this movie debuts.
Where Is Jerome Jacobson Today?
Jerome Jacobson has been a free man for more than a decade now and was released in 2005 after completing a three-year sentence for fraud. Since completing his sentence, Jacobson has largely disappeared from the public eye and, until recently, has been very much under the radar.
Although Jacobson has not made any appearances or been interviewed since he was released from jail, The Daily Beast recently talked to one of his accomplices, Andrew Glomb. Glomb told the publication that Jacobson is “in poor health, but living a quiet life in Georgia.” We wonder if he ever eats at McDonald’s.
Robin Colombo Found God and Became An Author After Getting Out of Jail
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 book is described as the “real, compelling story of one woman’s complete turn around through her faith in Jesus Christ.”
After the Trial, McDonald’s and Simon Marketing Sued Each Other
While Jerome Jacobson was the only Simon Marketing employee to partake in the huge McScam, McDonald’s sued the entire company. The fast-food chain claimed Jacobson’s scheme cost them $35 million and subsequently sued Simon Marketing for fraud, racketeering, and breach of contract. They also asked for $105 million in court costs.
Simon Marketing was quick to file a lawsuit against McDonald’s for fraud, breach of contract, breach of licensing agreement, and defamation, and sought a whopping $1.9 billion.
Simon Marketing’s Shares Plunged 78 Percent After the News Got Out
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, Another Major Client, Fired Simon Marketing Too
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, but 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.”
In The End, McDonald’s Had to Pay Simon Marketing Nearly $17 Million
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.
Was McDonald’s Monopoly Rigged Against Canada?
Jacobson wanted to get rich quick, but 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.
Don’t Worry, Canadians Have One McDonald’s Monopoly Prizes Since
After Jacobson’s McDonald’s Monopoly scandal was revealed, the fast-food company worked tirelessly to win back customers’ loyalty. Afte 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.
Some Interesting People Have Won McDonald’s Monopoly Prizes In Recent Years
Whether or not you believe in superstitions, you can’t deny that McDonald’s Monopoly game seems sort of 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.
McDonald’s Monopoly Is Still Going Strong 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. In creatively cryptic social media posts, the fast-food chain wrote: “The roses are dead. The card’s in the Valentine’s is over. When does MONOPOLY begins?”
McDonald’s Is Still 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 a revamped version of the Big Mac and a line of “Signature Crafted” sandwiches.