With a little help from one of New York City’s most notorious crime families, it was the man in charge of protecting the game pieces of McDonald’s high-stakes Monopoly promotional game that ultimately led to a $24 million scam that robbed real customers of their chance to win the biggest prizes.
Jerome Jacobson, a former police officer who served as director of security for Simon Marketing, the company that made the game pieces for the Monopoly and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire games in the 1990s, originally only stole a few game pieces to give to family and friends so they could receive the best prizes through the game, rather than just the free fries and burgers that most people won from the fast-food eatery.
Both games gave customers a chance to win up to $1 million in prizes if they purchased French fries or a soda that came with game pieces attached.
Jacobson was in charge of making sure employees didn’t pilfer any of the pieces, but eventually he figured out how to manipulate the game, and he gave friends and family the best game pieces, and they split the prizes with him.
But eventually he found himself hooked up with the New York City-based Colombo Crime Family, and the man nicknamed “Uncle Jerry” found himself the subject of not only an FBI sting but also the recent HBO documentary series “McMillion$,” along with an upcoming heist movie with longtime friends Ben Affleck and Matt Damon behind the project, Affleck directing and Damon set to star.
Jacobson ended up with prizes worth millions, according to the feds who eventually arrested Jacobson and seven of his associates in 2001.
Stealing in plain sight, almost.
Before his arrest Jacobson might not have gotten so greedy, but opportunity landed directly into his lap, and the temptation was just too great to resist.
The marketing company did have steps in place to prevent thefts like Jacobson’s huge heist from happening.
Game pieces were kept in a sealed case that Jacobson carried to packaging centers across the country, applying them to the French fry boxes and soda cups that were set to be randomly sent to McDonald’s locations.
Game pieces also each had tamper-proof seals, which made it impossible to open them to find out if they were winners. That is, it was impossible until a supplier accidentally sent a package of seals to Jacobson directly rather than to Simon Marketing, giving him the opportunity to open and reseal game pieces, stealing the high-dollar tickets and leaving the losing ones for hopeful customers.
Jacobson was not the only one watching the game pieces. An independent auditor followed Jacobson and his case everywhere, overseeing his every move, according to sealed court documents obtained by the Daily Beast.
In order to elude her, Jacobson sneaked the case into men’s bathroom stalls at the airport before they boarded planes bound for McDonald’s packaging centers, quickly opening game pieces in search of winners, then resealing the losing stickers before leaving the stall.
But it was his eventual connection with the youngest Mafia organization in New York City, the Colombo Family, established in 1928 and one of the most fearsome of the five gangster-led families in the city, known for murder, extortion and racketeering, that was his ultimate undoing.
Mob connections deepen crime
When Jacobson connected with Genarro Colombo, a reported member of the Colombo crime family, at the Atlanta airport in 1995, he had found a middleman who helped connect him to a wider group of accomplices including members of the infamous NYC crime family, which would make it more difficult for the FBI to track illegitimate winners.
Colombo and another accomplice, Andrew Glomb, would sell the winning game pieces Jacobson collected – in one case selling a $1 million winning ticket for $40,000 – often encouraging buyers to lie about where they lived because so many winners were popping up in the Jacksonville, Fla., area where Colombo lived, according to a story in the New York Times.
Colombo’s involvement made the fraud even darker. One winner told the website Oxygen that the crime family member forced her to take out a second mortgage on her house in order to come up with the funds to pay for the winning Monopoly game piece.
“My life was in danger,” Brown said. “I almost felt kidnapped.”
The scheme was ultimately brought down by an anonymous tip to the FBI about someone named “Uncle Jerry” was rigging the McDonald’s Monopoly game, and soon 25 agents led by Jacksonville Special Agent Richard Dent were tracking the case, tracking winners and finding fraud. The feds cemented their case by encouraging McDonald’s to run one last Monopoly promotional game, which gave the feds enough information to make their arrests.
While Colombo – whose wife confirmed he was a member of NYC’s crime family – died in a car accident in 1998, Jacobson was arrested by the FBI in 2001 along with seven accomplices including Glomb, all charged with felony conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
“This fraud scheme denied McDonald’s customers a fair and equal chance of winning,” then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a press conference following the arrests.
For his role in the scheme, Jacobson served 37 months in prison and paid $12.5 million in restitution.
The man once known as “Uncle Jerry” is now in his 70s, and quietly living in Georgia.