When I was a kid, we got a big kick out of the McDonald’s Monopoly game. You know, where little plastic tags are on the packaging, and when you peel them off, there’s Monopoly pieces or instant-win codes on them? Anyway. My older brother was convinced that it was a scam, that all of the big-ticket winners were fakes. McDonald’s put them there, the story went, to trick people into thinking that winning was possible.
As it turns out, from about 1995-2000, almost all of the big-ticket winners were fakes, but they weren’t put there by McDonald’s. The chief of security at the company that printed the tags was stealing them, and laundering them through dozens of associates. The Daily Beast has a crazy long-read up detailing the rise and fall of said security chief, the real Hamburglar, Jerry Jacobson.
Before each bi-annual game, Jacobson arrived at the drab Dittler Brothers’ office at 5 a.m to observe their Omega III supercomputer making the McDonald’s prize draw. He watched the printing presses that roared for 24 hours a day for three months, using 100 railroad cars of paper to print half a billion game pieces. . . Jacobson observed technicians applying the “INSTANT WINNER!” stamp to blank game pieces, and pioneered random watermarks that deterred counterfeiters. He locked the winning pieces in a vault behind coded keypads and dual-entry combination locks. It was Jacobson who personally scissored out the high-value game pieces and slipped them into envelopes, before sealing each corner with a tamper-proof metallic sticker. In a secret vest, of his invention, Jacobson transported the winning pieces to McDonald’s packaging factories across the country.[…]
The 1980s was America’s “decade of greed,” and it was Jacobson’s job to create instant millionaires. Playing God was intoxicating, as was holding a stranger’s fate in the palm of his hands. . . It was a thrill to protect the Monopoly promotion, and only a natural part of his job to consider the system’s fallibilities. But soon the temptation to steal had become irresistible.
One day in 1989, at a family gathering in Miami, Jacobson slipped his step-brother, Marvin Braun, a game piece worth $25,000. “I don’t know if I just wanted to show him I could do something, or bragging,” Jacobson later admitted, but he just needed “to see if I could do it.”[…]
The judge sent him to jail for 37 months. He did not pass go.
Apparently the reason this didn’t capture our imagination as the White Collar Trial of the Century is that the trial began on September 10, 2001.
It’s well worth a read, if you’re looking for something to pass the time in what’s left of your evening. Me, I have a Scalzi out from the library I need to tend to. Open thread!