** THERE’S A REASON WHY YOU NEVER HEARD OF THIS INSANELY INTRICATE MCDONALD’S MONOPOLY SCAM

 

Be honest: have you heard of the McDonald’s Monopoly scam before the new HBO documentary series came out? Probably not. And it’s for a good reason. It’s not that it’s boring or uneventful – because it’s anything but. And it’s not because it has delicate information that the public can’t know about – it’s all public information now. The reason you haven’t heard about this insane ‘90s scandal is that the trial literally began the day before the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.

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Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway / The Daily Beast

Yeah, exactly. Now, it makes total sense why people basically forgot about it, right? But now that nearly two decades have passed, the clouds have parted, and we can take a look into what really happened in the notorious McDonald’s Monopoly scam that resulted in more than $24 million cheated out of the system.

It all starts with a man who was as Uncle Jerry…

The Gist of It

A man named Jerome Jacobson swindled more than $24 million out of the most popular fast-food chain in the world. And he did it for over 12 years! How? He had a trick: stealing and selling McDonald’s Monopoly game pieces. Jacobson’s fortune and failure revolved around the twice-a-year Monopoly game promotion, which promised customers anything from a free sandwich to a million dollars.

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Source: HBO

All you needed was a lucky game piece. And Jacobson had a bunch of them. Through most of the ‘90s, he pocketed the pieces and sold them to a huge and intricate network of friends and distant relatives. His intentions might have been to help them, but in the end, more than 50 people were convicted in the scheme.

The Game

You might remember the Monopoly game promotion (I certainly do). But if this was before your time or you just weren’t a big fan of fast food, then this is how the game went. The McDonald’s Monopoly promotion involved collecting little peel-off game pieces that were placed on the packaging of the menu items as well as in print ads.

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Source: Twitter

And if you’re familiar with Monopoly (which come on, who isn’t?), then this should be easy to follow. The object of the game was to collect various Monopoly properties that could then be redeemed for prizes. Some were instant-win pieces, ranging from free menu items to cars, vacations, and the highest prize of a million dollars.

The Brainchild of the Game

The Monopoly contest started in 1987 as the brainchild of a company called Simon Marketing. Simon Marketing is the company behind the Happy Meal, and I think we can all agree that the kids’ meals were a massive success. The numbers definitely prove it – McDonald’s sales were boosted by 40% as a result. So obviously McDonald’s was happy to bring on another marketing scheme to boost sales.

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Photo by Ratana21 / Shutterstock

Since casinos and lotteries attract crime, McDonald’s and Simon Marketing were hoping to prevent such fraud and theft. They hired Dittler Brothers printing to make their game pieces. They were a firm so secure that it handled U.S. postage stamps and lottery tickets. The people behind the McDonald’s Monopoly game figured it would be a fail-safe method. Or so they thought…

Their “Foolproof” Method

The safeguards Dittler and Simon created and implemented to prevent forgery were incredibly complex and nearly impossible to breach. The high-value pieces (like the cars and the million dollars) were held in a vault that could only be opened by two people entering a key code simultaneously. And even the stickers themselves were created with intentional imperfections and watermarks that could only be seen under black light.

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Source: HBO

Once the pieces were made and ready to be taken to a factory to be placed (at random) on a soda cup or a Big Mac package, they were placed in an envelope with a tamperproof seal that could only be opened by an employee. And unfortunately for McDonald’s, that employee was Jerome Jacobson.

Meet the Conspirator

Jerome Paul Jacobson always wanted to be a police officer. He was born in 1943 in Youngstown, Ohio, and when he was a teenager, he moved to Miami. But unfortunately, chronic allergies and unlucky injuries always ruined his ambitions. For example, when he applied for the Marines, he was discharged from basic training with high arches.

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Source: Associated Press

In 1976, he became a cop in Florida’s Hollywood Police Department, but a year later, he injured his wrist in an altercation. During a long medical leave in 1980, Jacobson collapsed, experiencing severe paralysis in his arms, legs, eyes, and respiratory system. He was then diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder. It was later determined to be multiple sclerosis.

Working for Dittler

His illness forced him to leave the force and left him in the care of his wife, Marsha, who took a leave of absence to attend to him. “I became his private nurse, I bathed him, massaged his muscles, fed him,” she recalled in an interview. By 1981, the couple had moved to Atlanta, where Jacobson recovered just enough to work as a mechanic, building alternators for all kinds of cars he couldn’t afford.

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Source: HBO

Marsha was working as a security auditor for the accounting firm Arthur Young, and she was assigned to one of their clients, Dittler Brothers. She recommended her husband for a position there too and landed him the job. But the couple was not meant to be working together. They constantly argued at work, and by 1983 they got divorced.

The Ex-Cop

Jacobson then started a career of his own in private security, working for Dittler Brothers. He started to climb the ranks until he became the man in charge of overseeing all production for Dittler’s client, Simon Marketing, along with their $500 million McDonald’s account. According to people who knew him, Jacobson would march through the printing works, with his slicked-back hair and a little gut that fell over his belt.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

He looked every bit the ex-cop. He was quick with his jokes but commanded respect for his hard work with loss-prevention. “He inspected workers’ shoes to check they weren’t stealing McDonald’s game pieces,” one colleague said. A truck driver who transported game pieces said: “I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without someone going with me.”

An Offer He Couldn’t Refuse

Simon Marketing was impressed by Jacobson’s attention to detail along with his police credentials, and in 1988 gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse. “It was my responsibility to keep the integrity of the game and get those winners to the public,” Jacobson later told investigators. Once he was put in charge of keeping the Monopoly promotion secure, the sky was the limit. Well, kind of.

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Source: Flickr

He oversaw the mass production of hundreds of millions of Monopoly pieces. Jacobson watched the winning pieces being printed, locked them away in a vault, sealed them up and tucked them into his vest. Before each bi-annual Monopoly game, Jacobson arrived at the office at 5 a.m. to watch as Dittler’s Omega III supercomputer made the McDonald’s prize draw.

From New York to Sydney

Jacobson watched the printing presses that continued on for 24 hours a day for three full months, which used 100 railroad cars of paper to print half a billion game pieces. To put that in perspective, if you laid end-to-end all the paper tickets, it would stretch from New York to Sydney. That’s nearly two tickets for every American.

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Source: HBO

Jacobson observed the technicians applying the “INSTANT WINNER!” stamp to the blank game pieces and prepared random watermarks that prevented counterfeiters. He locked all the winning pieces in a vault under coded keypads and a dual-entry combination lock. It was Jacobson who personally cut out the valuable game pieces and slipped them into envelopes. He sealed each corner with a tamperproof sticker and placed them in a secret vest of his invention.

Beating the System

Jacobson personally delivered all the big winning pieces, flying from factory to factory to bring them to McDonald’s packaging plants. Apparently, Jacobson came across the materials by accident. According to The Daily Beast, a supplier sent him a package by mistake, a package that was filled with the metallic tamperproof seals.

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Photo by Mike Mozart / The Toy Channel

Knowing the ins and outs of the system, Jacobson figured out ways to steal some of the pieces (which some sources say Jacobson was inspired by a psychic’s prediction that he would receive a big bonus). In airport bathrooms (en route to the packaging plants), Jacobson would remove the envelope’s original seal, swap winning pieces for regular ones, and then re-secure the envelope with a new seal. Jacobson’s method was more foolproof than McDonald’s!

A (Relatively) Generous Thief

Jacobson was clearly cheating the system, which is a big no-no. But his intentions were more than just making a big buck. He always wanted to take care of his family. He started out by giving his stepbrother, Marvin Braun, a $25,000 game piece. Jacobson figured that since their last names are different, it shouldn’t be a cause for suspicion when the prize got redeemed.

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Source: Pinterest

And he was right – it worked. After that, Jacobson repeated the ploy, sometimes for his own profit. He would give game pieces to other family members or acquaintances who would pay him for the pieces and have someone else redeem it. His local butcher paid $2,000 for a stolen $10,000 piece. His nephew paid $45,000 in exchange for a $200,000 piece.

Reaching New Heights (or Depths)

Over the years, Jacobson’s scheme grew beyond his inner circle as he found other conspirators, usually by chance. The scheme hit new heights (or depths, depending on your own moral compass) when Jacobson met Gennaro Colombo, a man who claimed to be a member of New York’s Colombo crime family, at the Atlanta, Georgia airport in 1995. Colombo became Jacobson’s main co-conspirator.

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Source: HBO

It was Colombo who took Jacobson’s already well-oiled scheme to a whole new level. It was Colombo who started to recruit multiple “winners,” and it was Colombo who eventually gave Jacobson the honorary “Uncle Jerry” moniker. And yes, as you probably put two and two together by now, you’ve realized that Jerome Jacobson is indeed “Uncle Jerry.”

Meet the Mobster

Gennaro Colombo (also known as Jerry) was born in Sicily but raised in Brooklyn. He ran strip clubs and illegal gambling operations in South Carolina. Gennaro was also related to Joseph Colombo, who was the head of the New York Mafia family (and whose 1971 attempted assassination at an Italian Unity Day rally is depicted in The Irishman).

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Source: YouTube

To give you a character description, Jerry’s brother Frank (who spoke publicly about it for the first time in HBO’s documentary series) describes his brother as a combination of “Marlon Brando and Joe Pesci” or “Al Capone and Rodney Dangerfield.” After both Jerry’s met by chance that day in 1995 at the Atlanta airport, Jacobson gave Colombo a prize piece for a new Dodge Viper.

True Mafia Style

In the true mafia style of showing off, Colombo appeared in a McDonald’s advertisement, waving the key to the Viper. But in reality, he took the cash equivalent of the car because the sports car was simply too small for him. Colombo was a large man. Anyways, it didn’t take long until Colombo was slipping $1 million tickets to his family members and friends.

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Source: HBO

Also, in true mafia style, Colombo would take a cut for both himself and Jacobson with each deal. One of the winners included his wife Robin’s father. Robin, a colorful character in the documentary McMillions, recounted how she nearly ate a gray M&M, which was actually a $1 million prize winner in a Mars chocolate bar contest run by another arm of Simon Marketing.

Jacobson’s “Recruiters”

In the late 90s, while Jacobson was waiting to board a cruise ship, he met a man named Don Hart. Hart was a man from Georgia who previously ran a trucking company. Once he became involved in the scam, Hart introduced Jacobson to Richard Couturier and Andrew Glomb. Couturier liked to give the Monopoly pieces away at parties.

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Source: HBO

Glomb, on the other hand, a man who did prison time for transporting cocaine on a flight, liked to give his pieces to people he knew were in dire need of cash. One of those recipients was a man who was convicted of dealing 400 pounds of cocaine in 1999. Hart, Glomb, Colombo, and his other “recruiters” would sell pieces to various “winners.”

Becoming Uncle Jerry

The men tracked down willing buyers and coached them in the process of claiming their winnings. In one case, Colombo sold a $1 million piece to a woman named Gloria Brown, who was a friend of his wife’s. He gave her the piece for $40,000 on the side of the highway. Brown later said how Colombo walked her through what to say and told her to lie about where she lived to avoid drawing suspicion. He then drove her to a McDonald’s to claim the prize.

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Source: HBO

As the conspirators got closer, Colombo started calling Jacobson “Uncle Jerry.” For those who know of the mafia, the term “uncle” is one of respect in Italian culture. Colombo, who lived lavishly and invested in strip clubs and fought off local governments in South Carolina that tried to close down his businesses, was involved in a tragic car accident.

An Untouchable Jerry

By now, Jacobson was seeing nothing but success with his fraud, which made him super (even over-) confident. He already perfected his method of swapping the winning tickets. Considering how he was being accompanied by a female chaperone on all of his trips to McDonald’s packaging plants, Jacobson had to be creative.

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Source: Flickr

His female chaperone couldn’t enter the men’s room with him, so he figured it was the best place to carry out the essential deed. It was in the men’s rooms of the airports that Jacobson was forced to open and reseal the envelopes. Jacobson was getting away with it all, and he felt untouchable.

But Colombo, his biggest accomplice, was suddenly out of the picture…

Goodbye, Colombo

It’s not clear whether he did it out of the kindness of his heart or because he thought it could help his case if he got caught, but Jacobson anonymously sent a $1 million ticket to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 1998. It was basically an unheard-of good deed, one that made the national news. Another piece of news was Colombo’s death.

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Source: HBO

In a surprising twist, during a time that Colombo was trying to save his marriage to Robin, he was badly injured in a car accident along the Georgia–South Carolina border. His son, who was also in the car, amazingly came out with barely a scratch. Colombo, however, died in the hospital two weeks later. Rather than give up, Uncle Jerry decided to find some new help.

Turning to a Mormon in Need

And so who did he turn to? He recruited none other than an upstanding Mormon and real-estate developer by the name of Dwight Baker. Baker had fallen on hard times after having injured his spine in a tractor accident. He, his wife, and their five children had been collecting McDonald’s Monopoly pieces.

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Source: HBO

They hoped for some winning pieces to help pay off the tens of thousands Baker owed in back taxes. Baker gave Jacobson’s prize pieces to his foster son, his sister-in-law, and others who, like previous “winners,” set up phony residences and accounts. They wanted to make it appear as though they lived in different parts of the country. But, unfortunately for them, the FBI was already onto them.

“McDonald’s Monopoly Fraud?”

When Jacksonville-based Special Agent Richard Dent received an anonymous tip in 2000, the FBI learned that three recent Monopoly winners were, in fact, all connected. The connection? A mystery man named “Uncle Jerry.” At the time, Dent had been bogged down in other cases, and so he initially didn’t follow up on the tip.

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Source: HBO

But his partner, Doug Mathews (who is really the best part of McMillions), saw a note on Dent’s desk that simply read: “McDonald’s Monopoly fraud?” Mathews was instantly intrigued and wondered what it was about. Soon after, the FBI established that there was something very fishy going on with the McDonald’s game. Think about it: the odds of winning the jackpot were 1 in 250 million. The odds of three connected people were virtually impossible.

Operation Final Answer

After rejecting names that started with “Mc-” and even the Hamburglar, the FBI decided to call the official investigation “Operation Final Answer.” Why? Because they were clearly fans of the then-popular game show ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,’ which was also the co-sponsor of that year’s Monopoly contest.

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Source: HBO

The FBI at that time wasn’t sure if one or more McDonald’s corporate employees were in on the scam, but they eventually approached the company and explained what was happening and what the next steps were. And just to give you an idea as to what Agent Mathews is like, when the FBI met with the McDonald’s top security team, he wore a gold suit. Why? Because he thought it would be funny.

Wiretaps and Undercover Ploys

The operation grew and began to involve wiretaps and undercover agents. With the help of McDonald’s marketing employee Amy Murray, they began a ploy that involved undercover agents, including Mathews himself. They posed as a TV production crew that wanted to get the winners’ stories for a fake TV commercial campaign. They filmed the suspected jackpot winners telling their stories about how they won the prizes.

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Source: HBO

The fake interviews with the fake winners were all too awkward for the “winners” and all too much fun for Agent Mathews. Murray, on the other hand, was as nervous as could be, but pulled it off. The suspicious “winners” included Robin Colombo’s father and Michael Hoover, a Florida man, who used his money to buy a boat that he named Ruthless Scoundrel.

Lies and Evidence

The interviews were full of lies and gave the agents plenty of evidence to use in a future trial and thus let them move the case forward. In 2001, Jacobson’s fraud plot blew up when McDonald’s, at the FBI’s request (or demand), delayed sending out the prize money. It was just what the FBI needed.

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Source: HBO

Their plan worked because stalling the prize money only led the perpetrators to panic and literally blabbed all about it on their tapped phone lines. It was what the Feds needed to be able to move on in the investigation and nab the conspirators. According to the Daily Beast, 25 agents across the country tracked 20,000 phone numbers and recorded 235 cassette tapes full of telephone calls.

Making the Arrests

Agent Dent (the one who initially left the whole scam investigation in the “maybe” bin) had convinced McDonald’s to run another Monopoly promotion, but this one was fake. It was a way for the FBI to track down the final evidence they needed. The move was loaded with legal risks, but McDonald’s, in its collaboration with the FBI, already knew that by this point, the game was compromised.

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Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Dent’s decision to make a new game paid off because it brought them directly to Andrew Glomb for the first time. Colombo, if he was still alive, would have been next. The FBI then arrested eight major suspects on August 22, 2001, and charged Jerome Jacobson with conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

A Media Sensation

As you can imagine, the arrests created a media sensation. Attorney General John Ashcroft told the media: “Those involved in this type of corruption will find out that breaking the law is no game.” Americans at home, watching the news, were shocked that McDonald’s customers were duped for so long. Jacobson even became the butt of the media’s jokes.

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Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

For instance, one newscaster asked: “Are you worried the police are going to take him down the station and give him a grilling?… I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.” As for Jacobson himself, he was part of a six-hour interrogation. Agent Dent presented Jacobson with the evidence. In the following weeks, he provided the FBI with documents that he claimed proved that Simon Marketing actually rigged McDonald’s contests to swindle Canadian customers.

Nine Charges

Of Jacobson’s nine charges that carried a five-year penalty, investigators warned him that he could be 104 years old by the time he would get out. But his response was: “I wouldn’t be getting out,” citing his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. In exchange for a confession and testimony in court, Jacobson pleaded guilty to three counts and a total of 15 years (to which he served less, but we’ll get to that soon).

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Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

There was also all the money he owned, which was $12.5 million in compensation Back in Lawrenceville, neighbors watched his brand new Honda S2000, and other vehicles, including a luxury Acura, a minivan, and an ’86 Chevy El Camino were taken away.

As for the other members…

The Regretful Eight

Among the eight people arrested on August 22, 2001, were Jacobson, Glomb, Hoover, and Baker, along with his wife and sister-in-law. All in all, 51 people in total were indicted in the case, mostly for charges of fraud and conspiracy. Baker was excommunicated by the Mormon community, but his foster son, George Chandler, had managed to get his conviction overturned when a court agreed that they couldn’t disprove his claim that Baker conned him into the conspiracy.

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Source: HBO

Baker’s wife Linda, her sister Brenda Phenis, and all the other “winners” received only probation and are paying back their prize money (still) at $50 per month. Jacobson’s “super-recruiters,” including Hart, Couturier, and Glomb, were sentenced to a year and a day in prison, as well as major fines.

What About Robin Colombo?

Robin Colombo claimed that her late husband’s parents tipped off the FBI as a means of revenge for her trying to keep her son away from them. Her husband, Richard Couturier, who was sleeping in his car during the trial, told the court how a man he believed was in the mob warned him not to mention Don Hart’s name. He said he didn’t want to get “whacked.”

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Source: HBO

Just before the judge announced her sentence, Robin caught a glimpse of her lawyer’s paperwork and figured that she was going (back) to prison. She shouted and made a desperate dash for the door. She even reached an outer corridor before court marshals overpowered her. She was then sentenced to 18 months. It was behind bars that she discovered religion and wrote her life story, “From a Mafia Widow to Child of God.”

The Day Before 9/11

There’s a reason the entire scandal was lost in the public’s memory. The trial in Jacksonville, Florida, started on September 10, 2001, the day before the horrific events of 9/11. The trial of the McDonald’s scam was easily forgotten in the wake of such horrific events. The trial, however, to those who did tune in, was eventful on its own.

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Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

But during this hardly-spoken-about trial, Jacobson took the stand dressed in a golf shirt, looking tired and gray. He admitted to stealing as many as 60 game pieces. “All I can tell you is I made the biggest mistake of my life,” he said quietly. The judge sentenced him to jail for 37 months and to pay the $12.5 million back. He shook hands with Richard Dent, the man who brought him to justice. Dent quietly returned to his work on white-collar crime but is now retired. Jacobson was released from prison in 2005 and repaid the money. He is now in his late ‘70s and still lives in Georgia.

What Happened to McDonald’s?

Well, as you know, McDonald’s is still very much around. But that doesn’t mean that they escaped unscathed, having faced several lawsuits in the following years. McDonald’s and Simon Marketing both sued each other in 2001 for breach of contract. In the end, McDonald’s finally agreed to pay Simon $16.6 million. Then there was Burger King who came along and got in on the money-making lawsuit game.

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Source: The Tennessean

Over 1,000 Burger King franchises filed a class-action lawsuit against McDonald’s for false advertising and unfair promotion by knowingly running the Monopoly game while it was compromised. They ultimately dropped the suit, though. To make up for the unfavorable PR, McDonald’s gave away $25 million in prizes, including $1 million each to people at random chain locations.

Copycats

McDonald’s still runs promotions to the Monopoly sweepstakes, but the massive corporation has since created an “independent promotions task force,” which was put in place to prevent future copycats. This scheme wasn’t the first, nor the last, time that someone gamed a competition supposedly decided by luck.

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Photo by Jeff Maysh / thedailybeast.com

Back in 1998, several years before Jacobson’s trial, an agent working with Nevada’s Gaming Control Board was arrested and charged with racketeering after designing a computer program that rigged slot machines in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe. And in 2010, the director of information security at a Multi-State Lottery Association, wrote a computer code to manipulate their random-number generators. He produced winning lottery numbers that he could predict in advance.

The Aftermath

The HBO series has been the most recent development, and there’s also the possibility that a movie adaptation of the story is going to be made by none other than Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Damon would be starring and Affleck directing, but they didn’t announce any further details about the project. We’ll find out soon enough, though.

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Photo by NKM999 / Shutterstock

Meanwhile, in 2019, British Labor Party politician Tom Watson wrote to McDonald’s asking to cease the Monopoly campaign and its encouragement to buy more fast food. Watson said: “It is clear that McDonald’s Monopoly is a danger to public health.” But McDonald’s didn’t necessarily worry about that and ran it anyway. According to Mickie D’s, people could get puzzle pieces from their carrot bags and salads, and said, “Customer choice is at the heart of everything we do.”

Interesting “Wins”

There were some rather interesting “wins” during Jacobson’s Monopoly reign. Like in 1988, when a cop in Florida struggling with paying his bills told reporters that he found a winning McDonald’s game piece in his squad car. A year later, a family was living just 43 miles from Jacobson’s home, who won $250,000.

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Source: Reddit

Then there was the “impostor” M&M candy, like the one Robin Colombo almost ate by accident. In 1997, a newspaper published a story about a college student in Florida who won the $1 million prize. But the thing is, the student somehow found the gray-colored M&M before Mars even announced their contest. The boy’s father, who was a Baptist, said that if his son spent his money on a lottery ticket, he would have been sinning. “The Lord doesn’t approve of gambling,” the father said. “But a candy contest is something different.”

He Would Do It Again

Glomb, one of Jacobson’s “super recruiters,” was philosophical about his conviction. “I’m not one of those people who are mad at the FBI,” Glomb said. “It was a game, and I lost.” He also said that he still speaks with Jacobson, who is now 76 and not in good health. “I hate to say it, but I’d probably do it again for the same reason,” Glomb admitted. “Every time I talk to Jacobson, I always tease him, I say, ‘You got any tickets?’”

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Source: HBO

The game was such a hit with consumers, but while advertisements boasted grand prizes, it turns out that nobody actually legitimately won any of them. They were all orchestrated, and that alone is what shocked the filmmakers of HBO’s new documentary series – James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte.

A Story to Be Told

When filmmaker James Lee Hernandez learned this fact in 2012, that no one legitimately won the game, he was shocked. And so down the rabbit hole, he went, discovering that everyone who claimed to win a major prize was involved in the complex fraud. Not to mention the fact that the indictments came down the day before 9/11. The filmmaker had a story that was begging to be told.

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Source: YouTube

Hernandez and Brian Lazarte unearthed the scandal in McMillions, the six-part documentary series. The series is actually the first project of Unrealistic Ideas, a new production company owned by Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, and Archie Gips. Their focus is on “non-scripted” programming. Hernandez and Lazarte described McMillions as “true crime meets the Cohen brothers.”

He Used to Work at a McDonald’s

The series unravels a complicated conspiracy that involves a cast of characters that are almost too hilarious and peculiar that it’s too easy to forget that you’re actually watching a documentary and not a comedy. So how did they come up with the idea for the series? Hernandez said: “It started with me laying in bed, looking at Reddit on my phone before falling asleep.”

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Photo by Matt Baron / Shutterstock

In between all the random articles he was scrolling through, he saw a “TIL.” “Today, I learned: Nobody really won the McDonald’s Monopoly game,” Hernandez spoke about how he loved that game as a kid. His first job was at a McDonald’s during the time when the game was going on in real-time.

He Had to Know More

The “TIL” was only a small blurb in a local Jacksonville newspaper, but he just had to know more. He looked into it, but couldn’t find a lot. He researched it over the next year or so, eventually putting a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Government. It ended up taking a little over three years to go through, but he got the information he eagerly waited for.

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Photo by Matt Baron / Shutterstock

“I was able to find the prosecutor and agents who worked the case. I reached out to them, reached out to FBI headquarters. The agents said this was one of their favorite cases, but nobody had ever contacted them about this, and they would love to work with me on this,” Hernandez recalled.

They Lucked Out

Hernandez and Lazarte debated over whether to do a feature film on this incredible story that clearly hasn’t been told yet. And very quickly, it became obvious that once they started filming with the federal prosecutor and the agents, and had conversations with the “winners” that this was an enormous story.

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Source: HBO

“It started to grow beyond our expectations, to the point where we found ourselves struggling to see how we could fit this into a 90-minute movie. We started to imagine this as a series,” Lazarte recalled. The whole fraud part is intriguing in itself, but if you don’t have anyone interesting to tell that story, it’s going to be really boring for viewers. But it looks like these filmmakers lucked out big time.

Not a Typical Agent

They were especially surprised by the FBI. When you think of FBI agents, you typically imagine a stuffy and boring, withdrawn type of individual. You know – the ones we see on TV and in movies. But people like Doug Matthews completely flip that idea on its butt. He is every bit a character that was made to be on the screen.

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Photo by Matt Baron / Shutterstock

The tone of McMillions is also different from the typical “true crime” documentary. It’s witty and fun. “The tone was something we discussed a great deal. We struggled to find any other true-crime series or documentary series that really straddled this tone of comedic but also very serious in the way we wanted to do,” Lazarte explained. Folks, if you haven’t seen the series yet, please do.

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