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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

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
4 hours ago - Health

Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has picked former FDA chief David Kessler to lead Operation Warp Speed, a day after unveiling a nearly $2 trillion pandemic relief plan that includes $400 billion for directly combatting the virus.

Why it matters: Biden's transition team said Kessler has been advising the president-elect since the beginning of the pandemic, and hopes his involvement will help accelerate vaccination, the New York Times reports. Operation Warp Speed's current director, Moncef Slaoui, will stay on as a consultant.

The case of the missing relief money

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A chunk of stimulus payments is missing in action, thanks to a mix up that put as many as 13 million checks into invalid bank accounts.

Why it matters: The IRS (by law) was supposed to get all payments out by Friday. Now the onus could shift to Americans to claim the money on their tax refund — further delaying relief to struggling, lower-income Americans.

The post-Trump GOP, gutted

McConnell (L), McCarthy (R) and Trump. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Republicans will emerge from the Trump era gutted financially, institutionally and structurally.

The big picture: The losses are stark and substantial.