Appearing on the heels of other true crime docuseries which tell the stories of bizarre criminals (Tiger King) is McMillions, which, released earlier in the year on HBO, is newly available to watch in the UK via the platforms Sky TV and NOW TV. The HBO documentary series tells the story of a $24 million McDonald’s Monopoly game scam in which fake winners claimed high-value prizes in the promotional Monopoly games ran by McDonald’s over two decades.
Although the scam was a multi-million dollar, twelve-year long affair which involved gargantuan corporation McDonald’s, its story has not been told before, due to its hearings taking place between September 10 and 11 of 2001, with the attacks on the World Trade Center understandably gaining more media coverage at the time. Now, its intriguing story is being told for the first time in the sprawling docuseries which entangles the mafia, FBI and McDonald’s.
Using in-depth interviews with those involved in every aspect of the game heist, the series focuses on the elusive figure of ‘Uncle Jerry’, the criminal alias of real-life perpetrator Jerry Jacobson who carried out the McDonald’s Monopoly game scandal between 1989 and 2001. As chief of security at a subcontracting company hired by McDonald’s to organize and promote the game, Jacobson was able to steal the most valuable game pieces which he then sold on to unsuspecting ‘winners’.
Starting with young FBI agent stumbling upon a sticky note with the words ‘McDonald’s Monopoly Fraud?’ written on it, the FBI eventually became involved in bringing the fraudulent scheme to justice, through a combination of undercover work alongside McDonald’s employees and surveillance.
Creator James Lee Hernandez devised the idea for the six-part documentary series from a place of personal and obsessive interest, having been previously obsessed with the McDonald’s Monopoly game as a child, and later working in McDonald’s at the time of the game as a teenager. While browsing through Reddit in 2012, Hernandez’ interest in the game was once again sparked, and he immediately began delving into the details of the case. However, while reading up about this elusive case, Hernandez “hit a wall for information” after a year.
Determined in his personal fascination with the case, Hernandez continued research and put in a Freedom of Information request into the US government, which took over three years to go through. After contacting the FBI agents and federal prosecutors who worked on the case, Hernandez was informed that the McDonald’s Monopoly scandal was “their favourite case that they ever worked on”, but nobody had ever contacted them about it. From then on, the summer of 2017, Hernandez put the show into development with fellow filmmaker Brian Lazertes.
Not only graced by the larger-than-life figure of unfiltered FBI agent Doug Matthews, the sheer magnitude of what McMillions is dealing with will likely add to its appeal, with Hernandez saying in a LADBible interview:
This is such a massive thing where the dollar amount might not have been insane, but it was what they were able to pull off for the amount of time. Cal Kinnear, who is head of the FBI Jacksonville office, said to us that it was unimaginable that they kept this secret for over a decade. The more people you get involved, the more likely you are to get caught and yet they kept this under wraps for 12 years. It is a very large thing.
Seeing “the largest brand in the world”, notorious multi-million dollar fast food chain McDonald’s “exposed in this way” also will assuredly cement McMillions‘ status as one of the true crime staples of lockdown viewing in the UK. With an entire nation living for any form of escapism at the moment, and McDonald’s ‘restaurants’ slowly opening up again, it is refreshing to remind ourselves of the fallibility that even a corporation with as expensively impeccable marketing as McDonald’s can have.
For more docuseries entertainment, click here to read about the best documentary series released in 2020 so far.