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The McDonalds Monopoly Conspiracy Blog

Me and Withers are down in Atlanta this weekend doing a whole heap of interviews and videos for Mickstape. Very rare for myself to be anywhere other than my couch for an entire weekend but when you present me with the offer to sit down with Waka Flocka I simply cannot say no. I’m starting this off this way because typically for these conspiracy blogs I spend all weekend reading up on them before I get to writing, but time constraints are a real bitch in the here and now. Next week, I’ll be diving into the highly requested Operation High Jump theories because there’s a shit ton to unpack there. This week, while I was taking my morning scroll of Twitter on the commode, I saw Robert Wuhl – that’s right, the dude from Arli$$ – retweeted onto my TL. He had found an article on the Daily Beast and decided to share it with the world.

On August 3, 2001, a McDonald’s film crew arrived in the bustling beach town of Westerly, Rhode Island. They carried their cameras and a giant cashier’s check to a row of townhouses, and knocked on the door of Michael Hoover. The 56-year-old bachelor had called a McDonald’s hotline to say he’d won their Monopoly competition. Since 1987, McDonald’s customers had feverishly collected Monopoly game pieces attached to drink cups, french fry packets and advertising inserts in magazines. By completing groups of properties like Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues, players won cash or a Sega Game Gear, while “Instant Win” game pieces scored a free Filet-O-Fish or a Jamaican vacation. But Hoover, a casino pit boss who had recently filed for bankruptcy, claimed he’d won the grand prize–$1 million dollars.

Like winning the Powerball, the odds of Hoover’s win were 1 in 250 million. There were two ways to win the Monopoly grand prize: find the “Instant Win” game piece like Hoover, or match Park Place with the elusive Boardwalk to choose between a heavily-taxed lump sum or $50,000 checks every year for 20 years. Just like the Monopoly board game, which was invented as a warning about the destructive nature of greed, players traded game pieces to win, or outbid each other on eBay. Armed robbers even held up restaurants demanding Monopoly tickets. “Don’t go to jail! Go to McDonald’s and play Monopoly for real!” cried Rich Uncle Pennybags, the game’s mustachioed mascot, on TV commercials that sent customers flocking to buy more food. Monopoly quickly became the company’s most lucrative marketing device since the Happy Meal.

Inside Hoover’s home, Amy Murray, a loyal McDonald’s spokesperson, encouraged him to tell the camera about the luckiest moment of his life. Nervously clutching his massive check, Hoover said he’d fallen asleep on the beach. When he bent over to wash off the sand, his People magazine fell into the sea. He bought another copy from a grocery store, he said, and inside was an advertising insert with the “Instant Win” game piece. The camera crew listened patiently to his rambling story, silently recognizing the inconsequential details found in stories told by liars. They suspected that Hoover was not a lucky winner, but part of a major criminal conspiracy to defraud the fast food chain of millions of dollars. The two men behind the camera were not from McDonald’s. They were undercover agents from the FBI.

Anyone who has been alive with eyeballs properly connected to their brains for the past 31 years knows the McDonalds Monopoly game. As “Lights, Camera, Barstool” discussed a few weeks ago, nobody ever knew a million dollar winner but everyone in their respective towns had heard urban legends of their friend’s cousin’s girlfriend’s uncle’s son finding the winning ticket in a dead seagulls mouth while going for a brisk constitutional on the beach some foggy morning.

I always assumed the McDonalds Monopoly game was more of a lie than a conspiracy. More of a form of marketing designed to draw customers in and in exchange everyone would win a free medium fries or an apple pie while chasing the dream of a million dollars. Paid actors in the commercials claiming to have won boats and shit just to get suckers like me in the door. People like games, people like McDonalds, people like dreaming about winning the lottery and having their life change overnight, everyone was winning. But I never thought there was actually a million dollars to be won. So, I certainly never thought there were multiple millions of dollars to actually win and that the infamous Colombo Crime Syndicate was in bed with a former Hollywood (Florida) Police officer in order to rig the contest. I have no idea why this hasn’t been made into a movie yet, because it has everything.

From a 2001 article in the Chicago Tribune:

More than $13 million in winnings from McDonald’s “Monopoly,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and other promotional games wound up in the pockets of a multistate crime ring, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

An employee of the marketing company that ran the games for the Oak Brook-based fast-food giant masterminded the scheme, prosecutors said. The employee, Jerome Jacobson, is accused of distributing winning game pieces to a network of accomplices, who then claimed prizes from $100,000 to $1 million and gave Jacobson a cut. McDonald’s responded to the arrest of eight alleged members of the ring by promising to give away $10 million or more to customers.

“When the FBI first contacted us, we were shocked and stunned,” said Jack Greenberg, McDonald’s chairman and chief executive. “The FBI has made it clear that McDonald’s was betrayed by a longtime supplier and a highly sophisticated inside game of fraud and deception.”

In announcing the arrests at FBI headquarters, officials described an intricate plot that began in 1995 and centered on Simon Marketing Inc., a Los Angeles-based company that McDonald’s used to run its promotional games. Simon operated virtually all of McDonald’s promotions, from its Happy Meals for children to the well-known contests.

Jacobson, who worked in the security department in Simon’s Georgia office, stole cards worth top prizes, prosecutors said, rather than having them distributed randomly. Jacobson turned over the pieces to his friends and associates, the FBI said, and they in turn sought out others who claimed to be winners and submitted the cards to McDonald’s. All the participants allegedly shared in the prizes. When an associate claimed a $1 million prize, for example, Jacobson allegedly got a cut of $50,000.

“Multiple winners were from the same family or closely related,” said Thomas Pickard, acting director of the FBI. “All appeared connected in some fashion, even though a variety of tricks were used to conceal their relationships and locations.”

How Jacobson wasn’t caught, I don’t know, IMMEDIATELY, I’ll never understand. It doesn’t even appear he was a prime suspect til super late in the game, which is bananas considering he appears to be the only person who had his hands on all of the major prizes. Multiple winners coming from the same families should have been enough to raise a red flag. But one incident specifically should have raised eyebrows at McDonalds and launched a quiet, behind the scenes investigation long before the FBI ever caught wind of this.

From the December 8, 1995 edition of the New York Times:

Tammie Murphy, 32, often finds checks, coupons and a fair amount of junk mail in the more than 700 envelopes she opens each day as a donations clerk at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital here. But last Thursday, toward the end of her work day, Ms. Murphy found something she had never seen in her nine years on the job: a winning card from a McDonald’s lottery-type game worth $1 million.

The colorful 12-inch-square card arrived in a plain white envelope, addressed to the hospital in blue ink. There was no indication of who sent it: no return address, no accompanying note. But it was postmarked from Dallas on Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving. That was the day after the McDonald’s game, Monopoly, began.

At first, Ms. Murphy thought the card was just more junk mail and was about to throw it away. Then, she said today, “The words ‘instant winner’ really caught my eye.”

Ms. Murphy ran to her supervisor, Anita Williams, and joked, “Look girl, I’m a winner,” waving the card around. Ms. Murphy said she never considered keeping it for herself because she knew the donation was meant for the hospital, which treats thousands of children from all over the world for catastrophic diseases, most notably cancer.

Hospital officials called the toll-free number on the card to report the gift. The official rules say the prizes are nontransferrable, but Edward H. Rensi, president of McDonald’s U.S.A., and a group of restaurant owners and operators made the decision to bend the rules for St. Jude.

Over the weekend, the game card was kept locked in a fireproof box at the hospital. On Tuesday, McDonald’s officials came to the hospital, accompanied by a representative from the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, who examined the card under a jeweler’s eyepiece, handled it with plastic gloves and verified it as a winner.

Today, the gift was announced at a news conference attended by officials from the hospital and McDonald’s Corporation, a few patients and Ronald McDonald himself. Like the other two $1 million prizes still available in the game, the donation will be paid in annual installments of $50,000 over 20 years, with the first check coming this month.

McDonald’s and hospital officials were adamant about respecting the donor’s wishes to remain anonymous and said they had no plans to investigate further.

So, the contest starts on November 23 and a million dollar winning ticket is mailed out of Dallas on November 24 and not a single person thought that was peculiar? They just assumed some lonely person ate at McDonalds on Thanksgiving, won the million dollar prize IMMEDIATELY, and their heart grew so large with joy for humanity that they decided to send the piece to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital? I get it could be seen as a bad look for McDonalds to investigate a hospital but just smile for the cameras and internally investigate this shit on the low. It’s crazy to think that HOURS after the contest begins nationwide on Thanksgiving that someone would not only pull the winning ticket but also be so charitable that they’d immediately donate it to a hospital in a different state. But no, this donation to a children’s hospital wasn’t what did in Jacobson’s crime ring. It was a fatal car crash.

From the Daily Beast again:

After three years married to Colombo, Robin had tired of life as a mobster’s wife. Since the birth of their son, Frankie, her husband seemed to spend all his time at his gentleman’s clubs and casinos. Meanwhile, Robin felt that the Colombos had cut her off from her friends. “They were the type of people who don’t like outsiders,” she said. Lonely and bored, she began confiding in Jacobson during late night phone calls. One night she told him that Colombo was sleeping with her personal trainer. “I was upset about my husband,” she said, “and he goes, ‘Well, you could marry me.’”

“No, I can’t. I’m married,” she said quickly. “I love my husband.”

Robin tried to make her marriage to Colombo work. “He had done some things in Charleston that I freaked out about,” she said, “I told him I needed to get out of South Carolina.” On May 7, 1998, they drove to the Georgia state line to look for land on which to build their dream home. Colombo’s pager had been bleeping all morning, but he ignored it. Robin was behind the wheel of their Ford Explorer as they approached the entrance to the expressway. At the on-ramp, a tractor trailer blocked Robin’s view. When she swung onto the freeway, a speeding F-150 truck smashed into them, dragging their car 250 feet and into a concrete wall. Colombo crawled from the wreckage, but emergency crews had to use the Jaws of Life to cut Robin and her son free.

“The policeman told me he thought I was gonna be the one to die because I was the one covered in blood,” Robin told me. But at the hospital, Colombo’s blood pressure dropped so low they wrapped his body in refrigerated blankets. “My mother-in-law ran over to me and told me she knew this was going to happen,” Robin recalled. “She had a vision in a dream the night before. That’s why she was trying to page him all day.” At his bedside, Robin shook Colombo’s giant arm, and begged him to wake up. “He was my soulmate,” Robin said. But two weeks later the doctors turned off his life support.

Ever since her husband died, Robin Colombo felt uneasy around her in-laws. The Colombos investigated the car crash, she said, suspecting that she might have killed her husband. “My mother-in-law, Ma, she told me, ‘Do you think if we didn’t know it was an accident you’d be sitting here today?’” At her husband’s funeral, Robin said her father-in-law promised to keep the New York side of the family at bay. “In my mind I was thinking, ‘Papa, I’m really not worried about them, I’m worried about you sniping me down, because I was the driver.’” (Speaking in a thick Sicilian accent, Colombo’s mother denied the family were in the Mafia but confirmed they are related to the late Joseph Colombo, former boss of the Colombo crime family.)

Robin had tried to keep up the ‘good life’ but had turned to forgery, insurance and credit card fraud. During one of her brief spells in prison, Robin felt the Colombos were “brainwashing” her own son, and said she didn’t want Frankie to grow up in the mob. She tried to cut herself off from the “the family,” which she said infuriated them. “Frankie [was] their first grandson, and, you know how Sicilians are,” she said. Robin believes it was the Colombos who told the FBI that her father, William Fisher, her cousin, and best friend Gloria Brown had all illegally won McDonald’s prizes. They wanted her in jail, she said, to avenge the death of their son.

Despite building a network of winners which included the likes of coke dealers, strip club owners, and underground casino operators, Jacobson would have gotten years out of this jig had it not been for a single car accident. McDonalds was so clueless as to what was happening with their own game that they had this motherfucker Colombo IN THEIR COMMERCIAL SMILING EAR TO EAR about his brand new Dodge Viper.

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It never ceases to amaze me just how many smart, successful people run these mega-corporations that overlook the most blatant red flags. A million dollar anonymous donation to a hospital the day after the contest starts should have nailed Jacobson for good. A member of a major New York mob family winning any major prize and then showing up for the commercial shoot should have been swarming with FBI agents and arrests should have been made on the spot. But nope, commercial went to air. The conspiracy ran for several more years. And it would have kept going had it not been for a random, deadly car accident leading to the scorn of a Sicilian Mob family tearing the whole thing down.