“It was the biggest fraud you’ve never heard of,” reads the tagline for an HBO documentary premiering Monday about a 12-year scam using McDonald’s “Monopoly” game.
We all remember the McDonald’s “Monopoly” game – collecting tokens to affix to a game sheet in the hopes that you could just get the last piece you needed to win that million dollars or Corvette! It turns out there were almost no legitimate winners in the game between its creation in 1989 and 2001.
The New York Post reported that the scam was orchestrated by “Uncle” Jerry Jacobson, a former cop who was a security guard at Simon Marketing, the Los Angeles-based company that “oversaw the contest behind the scenes.” Part of Jacobson’s job was to deliver the tokens that would complete portions of the gameboard resulting in high-dollar prizes. In 1989, Jacobson stole a prize token worth $25,000 and gave it to his stepbrother to cash in. The two quietly split the winnings.
Jacobson then started stealing every high-price token he could and started handing them out to friends and family to cash in. “As he grew richer, he joined a classic-car club, took to wearing fancy suits and celebrated at Ruth’s Chris steakhouse,” the Post reported.
Jacobson would eventually run into Gennaro “Jerry” Colombo at an airport. Colombo was allegedly part of the Colombo crime family. Jacobson and Colombo began working the scam together. Colombo would find people to pay Jacobson for a particular game piece – up to $50,000 for a token that would win $1 million. Columbo would then pocket half the prize money.
One woman who tried to better her life through the scam was Gloria Brown, who co-director James Lee Hernandez described as “a single mom who thought this might be her miracle” but “got in so deep and could not get out.”
“Brown, a Florida social worker, remortgaged her house to raise a participation payment of $40,000. That upped her monthly bill from around $300 to $1,000 and she was stuck paying taxes on all her prize money even though she’d given half of it to Colombo,” the Post reported.
Colombo died in a car accident in 1998. Jacobson reportedly found someone to replace him, yet the scam was about to be investigated. Someone had reported a tip to the FBI, but the agency ignored it, thinking it was a waste of time.
“Fast food fraud was not making any list of priorities,” one of those interviewed in the documentary says of the FBI.
But FBI agent Doug Mathews in 2000 saw the tip written on a Post-it note on a coworker’s computer and decided to investigate. In the end, about 50 people were convicted, with most entering plea agreements and paying restitution. For his role, Jacobson was sentenced to 37 months in prison for conspiracy to commit mail fraud. He was also ordered to pay back $12.5 million.
In total, $24 million was stolen from the Monopoly game during the 90s.
The documentary premiers on HBO Monday and is co-directed by Hernandez and Brian Lazarte. Executive producer Mark Wahlberg (yes, that Mark Wahlberg) told Fox News why he wanted to make the documentary.
“Yeah, I mean, it was one of those days where I had heard about it on the news when it was happening and then something else happens and all the attention shifts to that,” Wahlberg said. “But I didn’t really know any of the details and the nuance until we met with the filmmakers and started to hear the intimate details of what happened and how fascinating it was. And then it was like one of those things where it just sounds so farfetched and unreal.”