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Part of a McDonald's Monopoly game board. Photo: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

On August 22, 2001, Jerome Jacobson, director of security for a subcontracting company called Simon Marketing, was arrested along with eight co-conspirators for orchestrating a massive scheme to defraud McDonald's Monopoly promotion out of more than $24 million, writes Jeff Maysh for The Daily Beast.

The big picture: Between 1989 and 2001, "Uncle Jerry" used his position as the head of the McDonald's Monopoly account to steal winning "pieces" worth between $10,000 and $1 million. He proceeded to gift the pieces to family members and a growing network of associates — which included "mobsters, psychics, strip club owners, convicts, drug traffickers, and even a family of Mormons" — in exchange for a cut of the laundered winnings.

The backdrop: A former police officer known for his attention to detail, Jacobson was personally responsible for overseeing the printing of paper game pieces, cutting out the winning tickets, and transporting them to McDonald's packaging factories throughout the country.

  • In 1989, Jacobson's local butcher heard he was responsible for the prizes and offered to find a distant friend to claim a winning ticket and give him a cut of the earnings. "It was easy money," Maysh writes.
  • Six years later, Jacobson was directed by Simon Marketing executives to ensure that the computerized prize draw would never select a factory in Canada. Believing that the game was already rigged and armed with a company secret he could divulge if things went south, Jacobson decided to cash in himself.

Various family members and acquaintances helped Jacobson industrialize his scam, but perhaps none more so than Gennaro Colombo, a Sicilian-born Al Capone lookalike who claimed he was a member of the Mafia's Colombo crime family.

  • Colombo and his wife helped grow Jacobson's network outside of Atlanta to avoid suspicion. The money they earned was funneled into various high-end businesses, including a private members' club in Hilton Head.
  • "By the end of 1998, Jacobson had become Rich Uncle Pennybags, and America was his game board. He tooled around the United States stealing almost all the big-ticket game pieces, acquiring new properties on a whim, and collecting kickbacks from other players. Now he was hanging out with powerful Italians, he dressed in sharp suits and sometimes used the name 'Geraldo Constantino.'"

The demise of Jacobson, the Colombos, and their network of fast food fraudsters finally came in 2001, after an anonymous tipster prompted FBI agent Richard Dent to install a wiretap on Jacobson's phone. More than 50 defendants ended up being convicted as part of the criminal ring, including Jacobson, who served a reduced sentence of 37 months in exchange for a signed confession and court testimony.

The bottom line: The irony of the multimillion dollar fraud being perpetrated through Monopoly — a game "invented as a warning about the destructive nature of greed" — should not be understated.

Go deeper

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UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

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This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

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Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

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  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
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