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Man pleads guilty in $24M McDonald's prize scam
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Man pleads guilty in $24M McDonald's prize scam

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Times staff and wire services/ QUAD-CITY TIMES

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The man who masterminded the theft of $24 million in winning McDonald's game tickets over a dozen years pleaded guilty Friday and was ordered to repay at least $13.4 million.

Jerome Jacobson, 59, of Lawrenceville, Ga., known to friends as "Uncle Jerry," was an occasional visitor to the Clinton, Iowa, International Paper Co. plant, where the McDonald's game pieces were attached to french fry containers.

Jacobson is related to Gary David Pincus, 43, of Bettendorf, who reached a plea agreement last month in a Florida federal court in connection with the scam.

Pincus, the owner of Killir Outdoor Sports in Davenport, agreed last month to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, said a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office handling the case. Prosecutors said at the time that he also had agreed to pay up to $359,281 in restitution, although his attorney, Leon Spies of Iowa City, said last month that an exact amount of restitution had yet to be calculated.

Jacobson could get up to 15 years in prison for conspiracy and mail fraud. No sentencing date was set Friday.

He was the director of security for Simon Marketing Inc., which had been hired by the fast-food chain to run its popular "Monopoly" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" games. Prosecutors said Jacobson stole winning game pieces worth up to $1 million and "recruited friends, relatives and associates to fraudulently represent themselves as legitimate winners of high-value, winning McDonald's promotional game pieces," officials said.

They either kicked back a portion of their winnings to Jacobson or paid him cash up front, prosecutors said.

Asked why Jacobson did it, defense attorney Ed Garland said outside court, "He has reflected long and hard on it, and the only thing he could come up with was utter stupidity on his part."

Twenty-nine of 51 people indicted in connection with scam have pleaded guilty so far. No one has been sentenced.

Jacobson used at least some of the proceeds for good, anonymously sending a $1 million ticket to the St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. But prosecutors contend that the ticket was about to expire and Jacobson could not find anyone to cash it in. McDonald's honored the ticket after the scandal broke.

Officials said Pincus fraudulently redeemed a $200,000 game piece in 1997 and recruited others to pose as winners. The others included three people from Ohio, Nebraska and Wisconsin who won cars and cash by redeeming fraudulent game pieces, court records show.

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