Who Is "Uncle Jerrry" Jacobson? Meet The Man Who Rigged McDonald's Monopoly Game In 'McMillions' Documentary On HBO

Who Is "Uncle Jerrry" Jacobson? Meet The Man Who Rigged McDonald's Monopoly Game In 'McMillions' Documentary On HBO
Entertainment And News

In 1987, McDonald's teamed up with a company called Simon Marketing to develop a promotional gimmick to sell more burgers and fries. Simon had invented the Happy Meal and McDonald's wanted to find another promotion that would attract adults to the fast-food chain. The Monopoly game involved people collecting game pieces based on the popular board game. If they collected the right combination of pieces or lucked into peeling away an instant win piece, they could get prized that ranged from free food to major cash awards. Millions of people played the game every time the promotion ran. 

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What customers didn't know, however, was that from 1995 to 2000, none of the major prize pieces were even in circulation. The whole game was rigged from the inside; one man was stealing them and selling them to people he knew. His name was Jerry "Uncle Jerry" Jacobson and he was the head of security for Simon Marketing. Now the HBO documentary series McMillion$ is telling the story of his $24 million scam.

Who is Uncle Jerry from McMillion$? Read on for the astonishing details — but be warned, we included a few spoilers ahead. 

1. Who is "Uncle Jerry" Jacobson?

As we learn in the documentary, Jerry Jacobson is an ex-cop from Florida. He had dreamed of being an FBI agent as a kid but health problems dogged him on his quest for a career in law enforcement. He washed out of the Marines due to high arches. He spent a year as a cop in Hollywood, Florida but had to go on leave due to an injury. That was followed by an acute episode with Guillain-Barr syndrome that left him too debilitated to work for a long time. He did, however, meet his wife during his time on the force, where she, too, was an officer. Eventually, the couple moved to Atlanta to be closer to a doctor who was treating Jacobson. They both went to work in private security, him for Simon Marketing and her for Dittler Brothers Printing. 

2. What is Simon Marketing?

As we learn in the documentary, Simon Marketing is the promotion company that invented the Happy Meal and the Monopoloy game for McDonald's. They were in charge of developing all the practical parts of the game, including managing the printing and distribution of all the game pieces. They outsourced the printing to Dittler Brothers Printing, a company with a strong history of secure printing for clients like the US postal service. The two companies developed a system of printing game pieces that could not be counterfeited, a process that was personally overseen by Jerry Jacobson. After the game pieces were printed, Jacobson, under the supervision of an auditor, sealed the major award prizes in a special envelope that he carried with him. He then accompanied the game pieces to different manufacturers in the US to be affixed to magazine inserts, cups, or fry boxes that would eventually wind up in the hands of the lucky winners.  

3. Why did Jacobson start stealing game pieces in the first place?

The first couple of times Jacobson stole a game piece it was as a favor for someone he knew. He gave his stepbrother, who's also interviewed in the documentary, a $25,000 game piece for Christmas. Another time, a friend said he wished he could win, Jacobson worked out a plan where he got a $10,000 game piece and the friend found someone unconnected to Jacobson to cash it in. But after that, McDonald’s changed their distribution system and Jacobson was cut out of the loop until 1995, when he was once again in charge of getting the winning game pieces to manufacturing plants in the United States.

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4. What made him expand his stealing operation?

When we say the game pieces were sent to manufacturers in the U.S., we mean exactly that. McDonald's executives made sure that the winning game pieces ended up in U.S. restaurants, even though the promotion included Canada. When Jacobson found out about that, he felt like the game was rigged from the start. That’s when he started stealing in a big way. He first took one $1 million game piece and stashed it in a safety deposit box along with proof that McDonald’s was preventing winning piece from crossing into Canada. Then he took another $1 million winner and did something surprising: donated it to a worthy cause.

Jacobson was caught in 2001.

5. There was an anonymous game piece donation to St. Jude’s.

After he stole his second game piece, Jacobson put it in the mail to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. McDonald’s had to waive some rules about the transferability of prizes to all the hospital to accept it but they made it work and it was the feel-good story of the week when it happened.

6. Jacobson teamed up with the Mob after the St. Jude’s donation.

In the years that followed Jacobson's one act of altruism,  he started putting winning tickets in private hands. He knew it was too risky for him to start giving the tickets out himself, so he teamed up with a Mafia-connected guy named Jerry Columbo to find recipients. The deal was they would take the ticket, invent a fake story about finding it, cash it in, then pay Jacobson a cut of their winnings.

He kept up the scam for five years, sometimes handing out winning to tickets to multiple members of the same family. After Columbo died in a car accident, Jacobson met and worked with other “recruiters” to find people willing to cash in the tickets, including drug traffickers Andrew Glomb and businessman Don Hart. In total, he stole about $24,000,000 in cash and prizes from McDonald’s before he was caught in 2000 by the FBI.

7. How was Uncle Jerry finally caught?

Someone phoned a tip about fraud in the contest to an FBI field office in Jacksonville, FL. In FBI did a bit of digging and discovered that there were too many connections between winners to be a coincidence. They looped McDonald's into the potential scam to try and learn more and started investigating who had access to the pieces. They also wiretapped the phones of past winners to see what they could learn about how they got their hands on tickets. They found out that most of the winners cashed in their tickets using fake addresses in states outside Florida to mask their connections to Jacobson. They also heard people talking about someone they called "Uncle Jerry." With that clue, it didn't take much for them to realize that Jerry Jacobson, the man who had been trusted with overseeing the game pieces for so many years, was the mastermind of the entire fraud operation. Agents were able to track him as he was getting ready to pass off a winning ticket in July 2001. When the ticket was claimed shortly after that, Jacobson and many others involved in his scheme, including Hart and Glomb were arrested.  

In exchange for a signed confession and his testimony in court, Jacobson pleaded guilty to three counts for a total of 15 years. He also agreed to pay $12.5 million in restitution. He is now out of prison and lives in Georgia. 

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. She is the creator of the blog FeminXer and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.

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