McMillions 2020 series review | Book Addicts

McMillions (series)

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McMillions is a 2020 HBO documentary on the 2001 FBI investigation of the $24 million McDonald’s monopoly game scam.

7 out of 10 stars.  This isn’t exactly a balanced look at what happened here.  But it is engaging and very watchable.

The Informant

In 2001, the Jacksonville, Florida FBI received a phone call from an informant who tells them ALL of the McDonald’s monopoly game million dollar winners are related.  Then she gives them three names and tells them how these three individuals are related.  They are Robin Colombo, wife of Jerry Colombo, her father Buddy Fisher, and her friend Gloria Brown.  At the end of the series, in episode 6, we are told that the informant was actually Jerry and Frank Colombo’s mother who wanted to keep custody of Robin Colombo’s son Francesco.  She reported Robin to the FBI, along with Robin’s father Buddy Fisher so there would be no one left in Robin’s family to get custody of Francesco.  That viciousness comes across pretty clearly with ALL of the Sicilians in this mobster family.

Agent Doug Mathews sees a post-it note on his partner, Agent Rick Dent’s, desk, so he asks him about to which Rick answers, go ahead and check it out.  Mathews gets a list of winners and discovers they are local to the Jacksonville area (despite the fake addresses given to McDonalds) and they are all related.  Mathews and Dent, who report to Agent Chris Graham, make a call to US Attorney Mark Devereaux to see if he wants to pursue this.  He does.  And the four of them begin an investigation that will uncover 53 people committing fraud against McDonald’s.

Their next step was to request a few executives from McDonalds to come to the Jacksonville FBI office to meet with them.  Devereaux wrote the names of all the million dollar winners on a whiteboard then connected them through family relationships.  And the McDonalds executives were shocked.  They had no idea.  Well, no one did.  So the McDonalds executives went back to their headquarters and decided whether or not they wanted to  help the FBI.  They chose to help.  They were already ready to roll out the next monopoly game, so the FBI used it to catch the entire web of criminals involved which ended up being 53 people.

Simon Marketing and Jerome Jacobson

What the FBI discovered almost immediately was that McDonalds outsourced the running of the monopoly game to Simon Marketing.  They ran the monopoly game at least once every year since 1987 because it created a huge 40% spike in sales.  So the actual million dollar prizes were a drop in the bucket for McDonalds.  There were three ways to get a game piece:  (1) walk in and ask for one, (2) buy food and get one, and (3) magazines.

Mathews looked through the contest rules and noticed that part of the winner’s agreement was to participate in testimonials and marketing promos, so he proposes that the FBI put together a fake film crew and interview the winners.  That idea gets bumped up to FBI SAC Tom Kneir who approves it.  They call their fake production company Shamrock Productions.  And they get Title III approval for phone taps on all of the winners.

Michael Hoover is the last winner.  They videotape an interview with him and even recreate how he got the winning ticket.  Immediately after the film crew leaves, Hoover is on the phone to an ex-con named Andrew Glomb who was in prison for drug trafficking.  In their conversation, Hoover tells Glomb how the film crew bought the story hook, line, and sinker.  They also mention “Uncle Jerry” many times.

The FBI’s next step is to perform phone analysis of all the winners’ phone calls.  They all made calls to Jerome Jacobson, Head of Security at Simon Marketing.  He is “Uncle Jerry”.

At the same time the FBI is investigating this scam, someone gives the million dollar game piece to St. Jude’s Children Hospital even though the prizes are not transferable.

In 1977, Jerome Jacobson was a cop in Hollywood, Florida.  He met another cop, Marsha Derbyshire, and married her.  Then one morning he loses the feeling in his hands.  By noon he’s partially paralyzed and his wife takes him to the hospital.  He is diagnosed with Guillian-Barre syndrome, a paralyzing nerve disorder similar to MS.  He soon leaves the Police Department on disability and they move to Atlanta where there is treatment.  She gets a job as Head of Security at Dittler Brothers where she works from 1987-2000.  His symptoms subside and he improves. He gets a job as Head of Security at Simon Marketing.  Simon Marketing was in charge of McDonald’s monopoly game.

In 1989, Jerome Jacobson who goes by “Uncle Jerry”, approaches his stepbrother, Marvin Braun of Miami, Florida and tells him he can get a hold of a winning game piece.  Six weeks later he gives Marvin a $50,000 game piece and they split the money.  In 1989, Uncle Jerry approaches his stepbrother again, but Marvin says no and flushes the $1 million game piece down the toilet.  Since Marvin flies regularly to New York City to buy maternity clothes for his maternity store, he spreads the word that Uncle Jerry is looking for partners in this monopoly scam.  That word gets to Uncle Dominic, one of the head mobsters in the Colombo crime family.  Dominic sets up Uncle Jerry with his good friend Jerry Colombo.

Jerry Colombo of the NYC Colombo Crime Family

Up until this point, there has been on intimidation or violence.  That quickly changes with the entrance of Jerry Colombo as Uncle Jerry’s partner, because Colombo is part of New York City’s Colombo Sicilian crime family famous for murdering their enemies.  Up until Colombo’s involvement, all of the winners have been Italian and on the east coast.  Colombo’s wife Robin suggests they give the next winner to a black woman, her friend Gloria Brown.  Gloria is told that for every ticket Uncle Jerry gets $50,000 and Jerry Colombo gets half of the face value.  Million dollar tickets are not paid out at a million dollars.  The winners are paid $50,000 a year until the million has been paid over 20 years.  (Read the fine print.)  But the taxes run about 30% and those have to be paid immediately. Before Colombo will give Gloria the ticket he demands to be paid.  She has no money so he forces her to take out a second mortgage on her house.  She repeatedly tries to back out, but he threatens her and comes to her house with two goons.  She’s a single mom with a small child.  And although Robin is the one who first approached Gloria, after the first few visits, Jerry takes over and won’t let Robin and Gloria see each other.  The problem gets worse for Gloria because Robin, who used to be a friend, knows her entire family.  So the Colombo crime family knows exactly who to threaten to make her cooperate.  Every year when her $50,000 check comes, Colombo takes $25,000. Since she pays $15,000 in taxes, that leaves her with $10,000, most of which goes to the added second mortgage on her house that Colombo forced her to take (he took all that money too).  This is what Jerry Colombo added to Uncle Jerry’s McDonalds Monopoly game scam–fear and intimidation.

So far, the only person we know of who has “won” the million was forced into it and never received any benefit.  Instead, she received regular visits from mobster goons and lives in constant fear.  Does that sound like a “fraudster” as Devereaux calls them?  No.  It does not.  Gloria is a victim.

Colombo also gives a million dollar game piece to his father-in-law, Buddy Fisher, a former military man who has a perfect record.  Less intimidation, but he still gets very little of the money.

Lee Cassano is Colombo’s mistress.  Colombo gives her a ticket, takes all the money, then leaves her with the massive tax debt.

Colombo quickly gets greedy.  He has a mistress, a stripper bar in South Carolina called the Fuzzy Bunny, and a family.  The cops keep shutting down the Fluffy Bunny so he makes it into a church.  And eventually the place closes.  Colombo’s wife Robin finds out about the mistress, threatens him with a divorce, and soon after they are in a car accident which causes enough internal injuries that Colombo dies of those injuries in the hospital days later.  Rather than helping Robin and her son Francesco through this, Colombo’s brother Frank and Frank’s wife Heather, steal all the cash from Robin’s house.  Robin struggles to support her son and ends up committing check fraud for which she goes to prison.  And her dead husband Jerry Colombo’s mom gets what she wants, custody of Francesco.

Dwight Baker and George Chandler

While Colombo is selling game pieces, so is Uncle Jerry, Jerome Jacobson.  He beats on his stepchildren and his wife Marsha leaves him.  She’s his fourth wife, but he’s soon onto his fifth.  Uncle Jerry sells tickets for $100,000.  There’s no mention of whether he comes back to collect half every year, just the buy-in of $100,000.  Jacobson has extravagant tastes and keeps buying expensive cars.

Jacobson is buying property in South Carolina and likes the property developer, Dwight Baker.  So he sells him a ticket for $100,000.  Baker has plenty of money, has a nice income, but he also has five kids, so he begins selling the tickets as a middle man.  He ends up giving one to his foster son George Chandler under the ruse that the ticket was won by a guy in the middle of a nasty divorce.  George agrees to accept the ticket, get the money, and give half to the guy so his soon to be ex-wife won’t get a penny.  Now that right there is revolting.  He’s intentionally hiding $500,000 from this guy’s wife.  And he wants it for himself.  :0

Baker also sells several tickets to one person, Ronnie Hughey, as well as his wife’s sister, Brenda Fienis.

Andrew “A.J.” Glomb

When Colombo dies, he quickly begins looking for a replacement and finds Andrew Glomb, a former drug trafficker who just got out of prison.  Don Hart, a friend of both Jacobson and Glomb connects the two of them but then wants no part in it himself.  They are now in business.  Glomb ends up selling 10 tickets and making $614,000.  Glomb is a big drug user and has a friend, another drug trafficker named Michael Hoover.  He sells Hoover a $1 million ticket.

The Sting

FBI Agent Douglas and his fake camera crew consisting of two other FBI agents and McDonald’s liaison Amy Murray go to winner Michael Hoover’s house and interview him on videotape.  Once they get him to repeat his fake story they’ve got him for mail fraud.  They have the Title III wire tap on all the winners’ phones and begin connecting the dots.

In order to prosecute everyone they want a slam dunk which means videotaping the winners like they did Hoover.  So Mathews comes up with a great idea:  filming a reunion of winners on a free trip to Vegas.  The FBI can’t pay for a trip to Vegas, but the winners don’t know that.  They think it’s real and consent to being interviewed.

Once they have the videos they prepare the indictment and accidentally fax it to the Greenville, South Carolina News instead of the Greenville, South Carolina FBI Office.  Oops.  They offer them an exclusive and get prepared to arrest the participants.

The orders are to take statements from everyone who is willing to cooperate and to arrest anyone who is not willing to cooperate.  Eight are arrested, including Glomb who is a career criminal and Jacobson who refuses to tell the FBI how he did it.

How Jacobson Stole the Pieces and Hilda Bennett

Simon Marketing’s security was not flawless.  The biggest flaw in their system was the independent auditor they hired from a local accounting firm to fly with Jerry Jacobson with the winning tickets.  He had the briefcase with the tickets handcuffed to his wrist.  He had a combination lock and she did.  They both needed to be entered to open the briefcase.  But Hilda Bennett, the independent auditor, let him see her do the combination and never went into the restrooms with him.  So Jacobson went into the restroom, opened the briefcase with both combinations, and replaced the winning tickets with non-winning tickets.  Then he resealed the envelope with the special seal.  This was possible because he’d accidentally been sent a page of seals.

Jacobson stored these game pieces in separate ziploc bags.  Colombo put them in little “eggs” like the ones in vending machines with toys inside.  Colombo put these eggs in his freezer right next to the ice cream.  And when Colombo was in the hospital, his brother Frank and sister-in-law Heather stole all of them from his freezer so Robin couldn’t use any of them.  :0

The Trial

Of the 53 people arrested, 7 go to trial.  Two change their pleas to guilty after Devereaux’s opening statement.  The defense attorneys argue that the basis of the fraud is violating a McDonald’s game rules which is NOT a federal crime.  They also argue that Jacobson never told anyone that the game pieces were stolen, which is true.  He didn’t.  But Devereaux argues that because these people lied about how they received these tickets it’s fraud and because they mailed in the winner’s statement using USPS, it’s also mail fraud.

Robin Colombo is sentenced to 18 months.  Andrew Glomb is sentenced to 1 year and $3 million in restitution.  Dwight Baker is sentenced to 6 months with an ankle bracelet (house arrest) and 12 months probation.  Marvin Braun is sentenced to 2 years ankle bracelet (house arrest).  Gloria Brown is ordered to pay restitution.  And Jacobson, the man behind all this mess, is sentenced to 37 months and $12 million restitution.

George Chandler is convicted, appeals his conviction, and wins.  He’s still guilty in my book.

Jerry Jacobson, who stole $24 million, still has his house, all of his cars, and all of his money.  He pays $370 a month in restitution.

The Real Victims

Although they interviewed McDonalds customers who all felt cheated, the real victims in this tragedy are the employees of Dittler Brothers and Simon Marketing.  Dittler Brothers was closed immediately and everyone left without jobs.  That was devastating.  Simon Marketing laid off most of their employees.  Also devastating.  The day the scam became public, Simon Marketing’s stock dropped from $100 a share to 50 cents.  It’s the largest single day drop of any stock in history.

7 out of 10 stars.  Like most HBO documentaries this jumped around way too much, making it confusing.  They easily could’ve done this in two hours.  And although Agent Doug Mathews was entertaining on TV, his moral compass does not point due north. 

 

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