“This story has got everything. Revenge, drugs, greed… Ronald McDonald.”
If this isn’t the perfect recipe for an enthralling documentary, we don’t know what it is.
McMillion$, a brand-new six-part HBO documentary series from executive producer Mark Wahlberg chronicles the incredible true story of the $USD 24 million McDonald’s Monopoly game fraud.
What started as a profitable sham among family and friends, soon expanded to include a cast of ex-cons with ties to the mafia and unsuspecting co-conspirators.
McMillion$ features interviews with key players and is a stranger-than-fiction story about the FBI agents who worked tirelessly to uncover criminal mastermind “Uncle Jerry’s” true identity (the man behind the scheme), how McDonald’s executives were duped and the underworld figures who were drawn into the money-making gamble.
We’ll also see some of the so-called “winners” who dreamed of being overnight millionaires — only to be embroiled in the multi-million dollar scam.
The entire series will available to stream on June 28 via Australia’s newest streaming service Binge, but before we watch it, here’s the full story, explained.
Since 1987, McDonald’s customers had collected Monopoly game pieces which were attached to drinks, fries and advertising in magazines.
The aim was to complete groups of properties and you could win cash, Sega games, free food and even holidays to Jamaica.
The odds of winning were one in 250 million, but in 2001, a 56-year-old man named Michael Hoover called the McDonald’s hotline to say he’d won a cool $USD 1 million from the game. There were two ways for Hoover to claim his prize. A heavily taxed lump sum or a $50,000 cheque every year for 20 years.
Just like the actual Monopoly game which warns against greed, players of the McDonald’s game traded in pieces to win and would even sell tokens on eBay.
When a film crew entered his home on August 3, 2001, Hoover told the story of how he’d fallen asleep on a beach, while a copy of People magazine washed into the ocean. He then detailed how bought another one, which held the winning “Instant Win” piece.
What Hoover didn’t know, was that the film crew weren’t McDonald’s employees at all. They were undercover agents from the FBI and they suspected him to be part of a major criminal conspiracy to defraud the fast-food chain.
Special Agent Richard Dent
Special Agent Richard Dent worked at the FBI’s Jacksonville Feild office in Florida and spent 13 years, investigating police corruption and bank fraud.
According to his findings in the small print of the competition, the odds were stacked against the customer. In fact, the odds of pulling “Short Line Railroad” were 1 in 150 million.
In 2000, Dent’s investigation started when he received a call from a mysterious informant claiming that the Monopoly games had been rigged by an insider known as “Uncle Jerry”.
According to the informant, the million-dollar winners would pass on $50,000 to Jerry and members of the same family in Jacksonville had claimed three $1 million dollar prizes.
Dent then alerted McDonald’s headquarters, which was in Oak Brook, Illinois, and executives were concerned.
According to the fast-food execs, the game pieces were produced by Simon Marketing, a Los Angeles company, and were printed by Dittler Brothers in Georgia who made US mail stamps and lotto scratch-offs.
The person in charge of the game pieces? Simon Marketing’s director of security, Jerry Jacobson.
WATCH: The official McMillions trailer. Story continues…
“Uncle Jerry” Jerry Jacobson
Jerome Jacobson was sworn into Florida’s Hollywood Police Department in 1976, and in 1980, was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder. Unfit to return to work, his employment was terminated and by 1981, he and his wife moved to Atlanta where he became a mechanic.
Following this, Jacobson began working in security for McDonald’s contractor, Simon Marketing, where he was tasked with overseeing the printing of the Monopoly game pieces.
Seizing a very lucrative opportunity, “Uncle Jerry” began stealing them and handing out winning pieces to his own family and a web of what The Daily Beast reported as “mobsters, psychics, strip club owners, convicts, drug traffickers, and even a family of Mormons,” in exchange for some of the winnings.
His first piece would go to his step-brother, Marvin Braun, during a family gathering. Jacobson slipped him a piece worth $25k, later admitting that he didn’t know if he just “wanted to show him I could do something or bragging.”
At the time, Jacobson was “deep into his own get-rich-quick scheme”, and told colleagues that he was waiting for a huge payday from a mysterious “investment”.
After six years of fraudulent behaviour, Jacobson received a package sent to him by mistake. Inside there was a set of anti-tamper seals for the game-piece envelopes. This was a game-changer.
“I would go into the men’s room of the airport,” he later would admit, going into a stall where the female auditor couldn’t follow him. “I would take the seal off.”
Jacobson then would replace the “commons” and re-seal the envelope.
Jacobson’s money would soon fund businesses, private members clubs and his family tree — who were getting the pieces — were flushed with money.
How did it end?
After successfully taking in $24 million in money and prizes, the scheme met its end after the informant contacted Dent.
Dent was certain that Jerry was his man, however, had to move carefully. Along with his team at the FBI, he launched Operation Final Answer — a Mcsting to bring down the scam.
The sting would convict more than 50 people as part of the conspiracy and Jacobson was sentenced to only 37 months behind bars, and ordered to repay $USD12.5million.
The story of Uncle Jerry, an ex-cop who fraudulently stole millions from McDonald’s, hit the newspapers the day before terrorists flew airliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in 2001. While it was one of the biggest scams in history, it was buried the very next day.
Now, the 70-year-old lives a secluded life in Georgia, however, according to The Daily Beast, still keeps in touch with members of his fraud ring.
McMillion$ series will available to stream on June 28 on Binge.