If you lived in the US during the ‘90s, you definitely remember the McDonald’s Monopoly game. Each meal included a monopoly game piece — collect the right pieces and you could win anything from a mountain bike to a million dollars. But it all came crashing down in 2001, when the details of a $24 million scam were uncovered by the FBI.
Smile for the camera
Michael Hoover was pleased to greet the film crew of Shamrock Productions when they arrived at his Rhode Island home. He’d just won $1 million and he couldn’t wait to tell the world. But the men behind the cameras weren’t part of a real film crew — they were FBI agents there to collect evidence.
Of course, Hoover — a recently bankrupt casino pit boss — hadn’t won due to luck. He was involved with a complex criminal enterprise that had successfully rigged nearly all the major prize winners of the Monopoly game since 1989. By wiretapping Hoover’s phone, the FBI was able to track down the players in the enterprise.
An anonymous tip
The FBI were first alerted by an anonymous informant who revealed the most basic premise of the scam — unscrupulous “winners,” like Michael Hoover, paid someone named “Uncle Jerry” for the winning pieces.
Even with this information, it would take the FBI nearly a full year to get to the bottom of their fraud investigation. Gradually, they’d put the pieces together — and over 50 people would end up in jail. But how did the scam work?
Switching the pieces
A simple mistake was made, which enabled Jerome Jacobson — the production manager at Simon marketing — to rob McDonald’s blind: A bag of the tamper-proof packages that were used to hold the pieces was sent to the factory by mistake. Now, all Jerome had to do was steal the winning pieces and throw the losing pieces in another bag. Once the pieces arrived at their destination in a fully sealed, tamper-proof bag no one would suspect anything.
He distributed the winning pieces to family and friends, sometimes for a cut of the profit. The scam changed Jacobson’s lifestyle. Soon, he was able to afford lavish cruises and fancy cars.
He expanded the business
Jacobson enlisted the help of a nefarious character to expand the enterprise. Andrew Glomb — a former drug trafficker — became Jacobson’s middleman, distributing the winning pieces to desperate individuals willing to break the law to get some quick cash.
After the FBI had discovered Jacob’s involvement and tapped his phone, it didn’t take long for them to find out about Glomb. The FBI organized a sting with McDonald’s — they’d pretend to be film crews filming commercials and arrest the “winners” at their residences.
During a six-hour interrogation, the FBI agents laid out their case in front of Jacobson. All the charges would have put him away for decades. Jacobson, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, would die in jail unless he signed a confession and testified in court. In the end, Jacobson complied.
Jacobson ended up serving 37 months in jail and lost all his assets. Over 50 defendants were convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy, and recruiters like Andrew Glomb served a year.
Glomb and Jacobson remain in contact to this day. “Every time I talk to Jacobson, I always tease him, I say, ‘You got any tickets?’” Glomb told the Daily Beast.
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