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    Ringleader tells how prizes were stolen

    A security firm insider says he and five cohorts recruited people to cash in the McDonald's prizes in return for kickbacks.

    ©Associated Press
    August 20, 2002

    JACKSONVILLE -- The mastermind of a scheme that stole high-value Monopoly and Who Wants to be a Millionaire game pieces before they could get to McDonald's customers testified Monday that he recruited trusted friends to help find people to redeem the tickets.

    Jerome Jacobson, 59, of Lawrenceville, Ga., testified that he and recruiters received cuts of the prizes, which included cash awards up to $1-million and a Dodge Viper.

    Jacobson testified he stole about 80 percent of the high-value tickets from 1995 to 2001.

    "I took tickets I had customers for," he said.

    Jacobson was able to steal the prize pieces while working as head of security for Simon Marketing, the Atlanta-based company that oversaw the games. He testified that his annual salary was $75,000.

    The five defendants are charged in federal court with illegally cashing the game pieces from the McDonald's promotional games. The pieces were supposed to be attached to McDonald's drinks and food boxes or obtained through advertising.

    Jacobson, a former police officer in two Florida cities and Atlanta, testified that none of the recruiters knew the other recruiters.

    Based on Jacobson's testimony, prosecutor Mark Devereaux constructed an elaborate chart, attaching the names of recruiters and the amount of the tickets they received on the chart using sticky yellow notes.

    Much of the testimony dealt with Jacobson's statement that computer programs that randomly selected where the big prizes went were run again if it was determined that the top prizes were destined for Canada.

    But a McDonald's spokeswoman denied it. "McDonald's did not direct anyone to limit prizes in Canada," said Lisa Howard. No McDonald's employees have been indicted or implicated, she said.

    A message left with Simon Marketing was not immediately returned.

    Jacobson pleaded guilty April 5 and faces up to 15 years in prison.

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    From the Times state desk