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McMillions$, McLibel and McShell

Despite McMillion$, McDonald’s is a saintly global business compared with Shell

By John Donovan

Shell has over 44,000 service stations worldwide and operates in over 70 countries. McDonald’s has almost 38,000 outlets worldwide and operates in over 100 countries. Both multinational giants operate with an ethical question mark hovering over their business activities. Both have run well-known hugely popular promotional games such as McDonald’s Monopoly and Shell Make Money.

McMillion$ is the name of a hit true-crime TV documentary series about fraudulent promotional games conducted by McDonald’s for many years. McDonald’s was an innocent party until the last of the rigged promotions. The story is being made into a movie starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Shell also has a track record of running a flawed multimillion£ game in which all major prizes could be identified and removed by dishonest staff before they reached the public.

McLibel is the label the news media gave to an infamous high profile libel action that McDonald’s brought against campaigners Helen Steel and David Morris. It became the longest trial in British legal history, causing enormous damage to McDonald’s reputation. Mr Justice Bell found that McDonald’s had pretended to provide a positive nutritional benefit which their food did not match, exploited children in its advertising, and helped to “depress wages in the catering trade”. McLibel was subsequently the subject of a film documentary aired in many countries.

McShell was the label used in the headline – “McShell” case continues” – of an article about a libel action I brought against Shell during the same period. Knowing it would annoy Shell, I used the same label myself in comments published in two other articles about my libel case against Shell. (1) (2)

This all occurred while a 4th high court action I had brought against Shell for IP theft (this time in respect of the SMART multi-partner loyalty scheme) was underway.

Shell had already settled an earlier libel action (brought by my late father) and three for IP theft (brought by me). Shell later settled the SMART claim in a top-secret deal which brought a three-week high court trial to a sudden end.

In all, Shell secretly settled all six high court actions we brought against the company.  They also paid costs for the most recent proceedings trying to seize our Shell domain names, including Shell lost that case as well.

The McMillion$ story brought back some memories for a number of reasons. During the time when my company Don Marketing was creating successful secure game promotions for Shell and many other clients, we sometimes used a specialist printer Dittler Bros in Atlanta. Dittler Bros printed the Monopoly game pieces for McDonald’s under the supervision of our US counterpart, Simon Marketing.  Sadly, Dittler Bros was sunk and all of its employees lost their jobs because of the McMilion$ scandal due to the dishonesty of one key individual at Simon Marketing. His greed also destroyed Simon Marketing.

At one point in the FBI investigation, McDonald’s had to make a very difficult decision after being informed that their promotion games were rigged. Stop the promotional games, so that McDonald’s customers were no longer being deceived that they had a genuine chance to win a major prize. Alternatively, say nothing, in the hope of finding out who was responsible for the fraud by running a further promotion.

Speaking for McDonald’s about this decision, Director for Global Security Rob Holm said: “Ultimately, we owed it to our customers to do the right thing.”

That, in their view, meant conducting a further promotion which advertised major prizes to attract maximum participation in the full knowledge that the major prizes would all be removed and claimed by crooks. Was that really the right thing?

We had a somewhat similar experience with Shell Make Money.

We created an award-winning, spectacularly successful Make Money game for Shell in the early 1980s which we supplied in several markets around the world.

A decade later, we suggested that Shell should run an updated version.

We were fobbed off and informed that Shell would contact us when any progress was made with their promotional plans.

Although fully aware that we held joint rights with Shell to Make Money, Shell secretly printed a new Make Money game. We discovered what was going on and immediately issued our first high court writ against Shell. Having been caught redhanded, Shell settled the case. Shell did not have much choice bearing in mind that it had already printed nearly 100 million game pieces.

When Shell started distributing the new game pieces produced behind our back, we quickly discovered they were insecure. All of the rare pieces could be easily identified and removed by dishonest staff.

We demonstrated this to three Shell lawyers in the presence of our own lawyers. Six people were present. Shell’s most senior management, including the then Group Chairman, was aware of this fact, but let the flawed promotion proceed and runs its course.

The mendicity displayed by Shell in that incident was an indicator of what was to follow. The same shameful Shell team rigged a contract tender for the SMART project and then awarded the contract to a company that never participated in the tender. The Shell executive who masterminded the rigged tender had a special relationship with the company that miraculously won the race in which it did not run.

The extensive evidence was uncovered in Shell discovery. We made sure that every director of Shell Transport & Trading co and Royal Dutch Petroleum Company was made aware of what had been uncovered. Astonishingly, Shell gave its full backing to the self-confessed machiavellian executive responsible for the elaborate scheme to cheat and deceive innocent companies.

We began using the Internet to publicly expose Shell’s unethical actions, including undercover activity directed against us. We had no idea how deeply Shell was involved in that dark world. Titled Shell directors were major shareholders and spymasters in what is now one of the biggest global private spy firms in the world.

We later found out from Shell internal comms that Shell lawyers had pondered over whether they should sue us for libel over our published comments about such matters but were frightened off by the prospect of a McLibel type case. Here is an example of one confidential Focal Point report (full of inaccuracies) in which McLibel was discussed.

A more recent Shell comm says: “we have long decided not to take action against the site” – a reference to my website In another internal email, Shell discussed what they described as Shell “internal laundry” appearing on the website.

Shell has vastly more internal laundry than McDonald’s, starting with its support for Hitler and the Nazis, apartheid in South Africa and Rhodesia, and corruption, spying, plunder and pollution in Nigeria.

Voluminous evidence is available to documentary filmmakers.

By comparison, McDonald’s is a saintly corporation.


What Happened To Jerome Jacobson, Mastermind Of The McDonald’s Monopoly Fraud?

Jerome Jacobson is reportedly living a life of relative seclusion in Georgia following his release from prison for orchestrating the fraud explored in HBO’s “McMillion$.”

FEBRUARY 3, 2020, 1:33 PM ET

Many of the facts recounted in the HBO docu-series “McMillion$” may seem unbelievable to the uninitiated. But truth is often stranger than fiction – especially in the million-dollar fraud case centered around the rigging of a McDonald’s promotion.

The story of the fraud was first publicized in an in-depth piece from The Daily Beast in 2018. Reporter Jeff Maysh recounted how, from 1989 to 2001, a ring including mobsters and psychics bilked more than $24 million from the fast food restaurant chain during its Monopoly promotional game.

Central to the entire story is Jerome Jacobson, an ex-cop who figured out the way to rig the McDonald’s Monopoly game for more than a decade – taking home millions in fraudulent winnings before the scam came crashing down around him and resulted in prison time.

The wild story quickly faded from the public imagination, however. As WarnerMedia – HBO’s parent company – notes in a press release, the case “reached its conclusion on September 10th 2001, and was eclipsed by events the following day.”

The scheme began in 1989 while Jacobson was working in security for McDonald’s contractor Simon Marketing, where he oversaw the printing of McDonalds’ Monopoly game pieces. He soon began stealing and handing out the winning pieces to both family members and a web of “mobsters, psychics, strip club owners, convicts, drug traffickers, and even a family of Mormons,” the Daily Beast reported – all in exchange for a cut of the winnings.

But the scheme unraveled in 2000 after an anonymous tip was sent in to the FBI – alleging an insider known as “Uncle Jerry” (Jacobson) was rigging the games and that the previous $1 million winner was a fraud. The FBI launched Operation Final Answer in response, setting up a sting operation to bring down the scam.

The sting resulted in more than 50 people being convicted as part of the conspiracy. Jacobson was sentenced to 37 months in prison – the only person involved to serve more than a year and a day behind bars, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution. He was also ordered to repay $12.5 million.

But where is Jacobson now? According to The Daily Beast, he is now in his late 70s and in declining health, living a relatively secluded life in Georgia. He still keeps in touch with some of the members of his fraud ring.

However, its unlikely that this documentary will be the last time audiences hear about Jacobson. In 2018, Maysh sold the rights to his story for $1 million to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s film studio. Affleck has committed to directing while Damon will likely star as Jacobson, according to The Hollywood Reporter.


Scandal Strikes the Mr. President Coin Game!

On November 12, 1968, Shell Oil recalled the game pieces from all service stations, temporarily halting the game while new, tamper-proof game piece packaging could be prepared. Word got out that Shell station dealers were cheating and cashing in the prize coins themselves. With the first version of packaging, some people figured out how to tell which coin was in the package without opening it. This fueled the ongoing legal debate concerning these types of games. Read the original article here.

Shell quickly replenished service stations with the new (version two) coin packaging and the game went on. What did Shell Oil do with all the game pieces that were recalled? No one can tell me. Assuming large quantities of prize-winning coins were included with the recall, the game odds (and quantity of outstanding winning coins) would not be known without opening each one. Because it would have been more expensive to open and repackage them all than make new ones, I suspect they were simply destroyed and replaced with new ones.

Shell’s Mr President Coin Game

More Information

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