From 1989 to 2001, a criminal mastermind named “Uncle Jerry” defrauded the hugely popular McDonald’s Monopoly promotional game of millions of dollars in prize money. By stealing valuable game pieces from McDonald’s, Jerry was able to hand-select winners, hoodwink the authorities and share the ill-gotten gains. The deception, which started among family and friends, soon expanded to include a cast of shifty ex-cons with ties to the mafia and unsuspecting co-conspirators.
The six-part documentary series McMillion$, debuting same time as the U.S. on Tuesday, 4 February at 11am exclusively on HBO GO, followed by new episodes subsequent Mondays at the same time, delves into this stranger-than-fiction story and hears directly from the FBI agents who worked tirelessly to uncover Uncle Jerry’s true identity and the workings of the scam, the McDonald’s executives who were themselves duped but ended up aiding the investigation, the underworld figures drawn into the money-making gamble and the so-called “winners” who dreamed of being overnight millionaires. This American story, which reached its conclusion on September 10th, 2001, and was eclipsed by events the following day, reveals the timeless power of greed and profiteering that can lead people to do extraordinary things. Many who found the prospect of winning a ticket too good to turn down found out the hard way that it was too good to be true – and the negative repercussions continue to affect their lives today.
McMillion$ will have its world premiere in the Special Events section of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
McMillion$ is packed with surprising interviews and candid footage with the key players, including larger-than-life, rookie FBI agent Doug Mathews, Gennaro “Jerry” Colombo of the infamous New York Colombo crime family, widow Robin Colombo, her brother- and sister-in-law Frank and Heather Colombo and several million dollar “winners” all spilling the beans about “the biggest fraud you never heard of.”
Starting in 1987, McDonald’s teamed with Simon Marketing Ltd. to implement the Monopoly promotional game. Players could find game pieces on McDonald’s product packaging or in magazine inserts, and winning tickets could be exchanged for prizes ranging from free burgers to the high value prize of one million dollars.
In 2001, the Jacksonville Florida branch of the FBI received an anonymous tip that several of the million-dollar winners were related family members and that a giant embezzlement scheme was being controlled by “Uncle Jerry”. As the FBI’s investigation, codenamed “Operation Final Answer” grew, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Devereaux agreed to prosecute the case once they had enough evidence since the chance of having numerous relatives win was astronomical. “No one knew the truth about the game being played. No one,” commented Devereaux.
The executives at McDonald’s were also stunned when they learned of the fraud. “I was utterly shocked. How in the world could this have happened and more importantly, was anyone from McDonald’s a part of this?”asks Rob Holm, McDonald’s Director of Global Security.
FBI Special Agent Doug Mathews, a young, hungry rookie keen to get out of desk drudgery, wanted something exciting – and he got just that. He proposed an unorthodox idea: to pose as a video production crew to lure the “winners” into giving interviews during which they would hopefully incriminate themselves. Mathews got clearance to recruit Amy Murray, Senior Director of Global Marketing at McDonald’s, as part of the undercover operation to help with the phony shoots. While it is very rare for the FBI to use a civilian in a sting operation, Murray was given the go-ahead, admitting she was “nervous, but all in.”
As the investigation grew, more and more “winners” were discovered to be part of the scam. Some of them had checkered pasts, such as Andrew Glomb, a former drug trafficker and fugitive, while others were unwitting pawns in the criminal activities, such as George Chandler, who was duped by his foster father, a highly respected member of their community. Somewhere in the middle was Gloria Brown, a struggling single mother who knew it sounded too good to be true but convinced herself that “it was a blessing that came knocking at [her] door.”
Upcoming episodes include:
Debut date: Tuesday, 4 February at 11am exclusively on HBO GO.
In 2001, FBI Agent Doug Mathews of the Jacksonville, FL branch clocks an intriguing post-it note that piques his interest. The anonymous tip speaks of a con surrounding the much-beloved McDonald’s Monopoly game and a mysterious mastermind behind it all: a man going by the moniker of “Uncle Jerry.” With the help of McDonald’s employee Amy Murray, the investigation, codenamed “Operation Final Answer,” prompts Agent Mathews to propose an unorthodox undercover sting involving a video production crew. The operation tests nerves but leads to an early breakthrough in what promises to be a bizarre but unforgettable case.
Debut date: Tuesday, 11 February at 11am exclusively on HBO GO.
Hoping to unmask the mysterious “Uncle Jerry,” the FBI investigates two prominent figures they believe are connected to the scam. The first, Jerome “Jerry” Jacobson, is a former cop who left the force on disability and started working security for Simon Marketing, the company hired to run the McDonald’s Monopoly game. The second, Gennaro “Jerry” Colombo, hails from a notorious East Coast mob family and is no stranger to unsavory activities. Meanwhile, Agent Mathews and McDonald’s employee Amy Murray team up once again to pay a visit to prior winner, Buddy Fisher, who sweats and mumbles through his story about “winning” a million dollars as their cameras are rolling.
Debut date: Tuesday, 18 February at 11am exclusively on HBO GO.
Frank Colombo, the brother of Gennaro “Jerry” Colombo, reveals the inner workings of the scam whereby “Uncle Jerry” would sell the winning tickets to Gennaro “Jerry” Colombo for a premium. Colombo would then find willing takers for the game tickets in exchange for a cut of the prize money. Under the pretense of organizing a reunion for past winners, the undercover FBI video crew interviews Gloria Brown, a single mom and million-dollar “winner” in South Carolina, who tries to obscure her past in Jacksonville and the origins of her winning game ticket. Gennaro “Jerry” Colombo and Robin Colombo seek to diversify their recruitment operation as worries grow about obvious connections among “winners”, and Jerome “Jerry” Jacobson continues to breathe down their necks. Arguing in the car one night, with their infant son Francesco in the back seat, the Colombos face sudden danger.
McMillion$ transports viewers back into the 1990s, before the scam’s revelation and the ensuing media coverage were overshadowed by the events of September 11th, 2001. Featuring archival footage of McDonald’s television commercials and actual FBI sting footage, alongside vivid interviews and dramatic recreations of events, the series weaves together a highly entertaining account of a daring scheme and its undoing. Unravelling the twisted threads of the fast-food fraud, the story is told by the intrepid FBI agents determined to solve the case and the real-life characters for whom a winning ticket was too good to turn down and who took a bet that they could get away with stealing from Ronald McDonald.
HBO Documentary Films presents an Unrealistic Ideas production in association with Fun Meter; executive producers, Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, Archie Gips, James Lee Hernandez, Brian Lazarte; written and directed by James Lee Hernandez, Brian Lazarte. For HBO: executive producers, Nancy Abraham, Lisa Heller.