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Feds: Security official at center of 'Monopoly' case

(CNN) -- For more than five years, a security official entrusted with the handling of McDonald's promotional giveaways was siphoning off the prize money by recruiting phony game piece holders, federal officials said Tuesday.

At the heart of the investigation is Jerome P. Jacobson, 58, or "Uncle Jerry," a security official with Simon Marketing, a Georgia-based company in charge of McDonald's promotions, including its "Happy Meal" menus.

Authorities said the elaborate, multimillion-dollar swindle involved Jacobson's friends and relatives, and may have included as many as 22 people -- 13 of whom won $1 million prizes, according to prosecutors. Eight people have been arrested so far, and authorities say the investigation is about two months from being completed.

Court papers indicate planning was already in the works to compromise next year's $1 million prize giveaway. The investigation began after an unidentified individual "came forward and roughly described a conspiracy," prosecutors said.

According to court documents, McDonald's stipulates that high-value game pieces, once printed, are to be taken into custody by an official with Simon and an accountant. The two are then responsible for distributing the game pieces at regional publishers, often in Sunday newspaper inserts.

In this case, that never happened.

"The Simon employee (Jacobson) provides the winning game pieces to friends/associates who act as recruiters. These recruiters then recruit individuals who falsely and fraudulently represent that they are legitimate winners of the McDonald's game," according to the court papers.

"Before or after the 'winners' receive prize checks from either Simon or McDonald's, the 'winners' transfer a portion of the proceeds of the fraud to their recruiters, who in turn provide a portion of the proceeds from the fraud to the Simon employee."

Jacobson had been responsible for placing the winning game pieces into circulation since at least 1995, according to court documents. In at least one case involving a $500,000 game prize, the recruiter sought $90,000 and Jacobson wanted $70,000.

Prosecutors said that for $1 million pieces, Jacobson would charge $50,000 in cash from the "winner." Often, the money was demanded in advance before he would give over the piece, and the recruiters also got a cut.

When payments weren't on time, Jacobson sometimes threatened "winners" by saying he could report the game piece as stolen, the court documents say. Other times, he simply grew restless.

"I got to have some kind of deposit," he told a recruit, according to wiretapped conversations transcribed in the court documents.

"My word's not good enough?" the recruit, identified as Noah "Dwight" Baker of Westminster, South Carolina, said.

"Your word is good. Are you willing to back it up, though?" Jacobsen responded.

At a news conference in Washington, Attorney General John Ashcroft had a separate message: "We want those involved in this type of corruption to know that breaking the law is not a game."


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