After six episodes, the wild case of the McDonald’s Monopoly game fraud featured in the HBO documentary, McMillions, has drawn to a close. No one could have predicted the twists and turns in the case involving a man known as Uncle Jerry, who stole game pieces before they ever went out to the public and subsequently handpicked winners among family and friends to receive various prizes, including the coveted $1 million ticket.
But what directors James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte’s series showed was how greed, deception and revenge led to Uncle Jerry aka Jerome Jacobson expanding his crime ring to involve ex-cons with ties to the Mafia and the fallout that followed as co-conspirators turned on each other.
Nearly two decades later, Hernandez and Lazarte talked to those who were involved firsthand and the FBI team that brought them down -- including fan-favorite special agent Doug Mathews -- to find out what really happened behind the scenes. But for every question answered, there were a number of lingering ones that followed.
In a conversation with ET, the two directors answer those questions based on their years investigating this case.
Does Doug Mathews still own that infamous yellow suit?
In the documentary, Mathews reveals he wore a splashy suit during the FBI’s initial meeting with the McDonald’s global security team. “This part of the investigation was extremely boring to me,” he says. “I had it in the closet and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a great opportunity to wear a golden fry suit.’”
According to the directors, the agent also wore the suit -- which other agents said looked like “it was made out of drapes” -- to court but was immediately sent home by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Devereaux who told him to “change that damn outfit.” Mathews is now convinced that Devereaux paid off his wife to get rid of that suit.
Did Uncle Jerry’s stepbrother, Marvin Braun, really throw a $1 million prize ticket in the toilet?
According to Braun, Uncle Jerry gave him several winning tickets. But after he attempted to give Braun the top prize while the two were out to dinner together, Braun said he couldn’t stay involved any longer and flushed the ticket down the toilet. “Marvin is an interesting character,” the directors say. “He says that he has no reason to lie and wouldn’t lie about it. I know that many people out there might think that isn’t totally feasible. But that’s what he told us.”
Did Uncle Jerry really send the mystery $1 million prize ticket to St. Jude’s?
One of the biggest mysteries was who sent a winning ticket in the mail to St. Jude’s. While the sharing of the ticket was a violation of the game’s official rules, McDonald’s honored the prize and made annual payments of $50,000 through 2014. Uncle Jerry later confessed to sending the prize to the hospital in an unexpected act of charity in the middle of all his theft. “There are actually two other people who corroborated that beyond the FBI,” the directors say.
What didn’t make it into the docuseries, however, is the reason why. “It had less to do with his generosity from what we’ve been told and more to do with his inability to secure someone to claim the ticket,” the directors explain, adding that “he could have flushed it down the toilet himself, but maybe there is a generous component to him. Or maybe he wanted to right a wrong or was feeling a little guilty for everything he was taking.”
Who accidentally sent the fax to the Greenville newspaper?
Just as the FBI’s investigation was about to launch a coordinated, cross-country day of indictments, a technical error almost threw the whole thing in jeopardy. The day before they were about to make arrests, an agent accidentally sent a fax of the entire investigation to the local newspaper. “I’m not going to say who did it. But there may have been somebody I know very closely that did it that would deny it,” Devereaux says before the documentary cuts to Mathews, who adamantly denies it was him.
“That was gone back and forth and there have been blames and multiple directions, but from what we have found out, it was not [Doug],” the directors say, revealing: “We did additional research on this specific moment and we couldn’t actually tie it back to Doug Mathews himself. Although, it’s very plausible and Mark Devereaux does seem to think it was him.”
Who actually tipped off the FBI? Jerry Colombo’s mother or Lee Cassano, who went to the IRS?
From the first episode, we learn that an anonymous call led to the FBI investigating the suspicious winners of the McDonald’s Monopoly game. While several agents claim to know who that person is, they won’t reveal their identity on camera. “I will never tell you who the source was,” Mathews says in the documentary. “It was to work like that, right?”
While several of the people interviewed offer up their ideas of who it is, the brother of Jerry Colombo, who partnered with Uncle Jerry on the scam, claims that it was their mother who called the FBI. Meanwhile, one of the handpicked winners, Lee Cassano, reveals that she confessed to the IRS, whom she believes reached out to the agency.
“It definitely doesn’t seem like it was Lee based on what Doug Mathews says. That if it was actually coming through the IRS, it would have been a joint venture with the IRS,” the directors say. “Honestly, the mom story sounds very plausible, right? All the pieces certainly add up to suggest that that is the case. The problem is the FBI will never ever admit or tell us because they protect what is out there at all costs.”
What was your reaction after you learned that Marvin Braun and Mark Devereaux became friends after the trial?
In the final episodes, after justice has been brought down on all of those involved in the crime ring, it’s revealed that Braun and Devereaux became friends. “I was the first person to turn themselves in,” Braun reveals. “I’ll never forget the first time I met him. The only thing he said to me, ‘Don’t lie to me.’” Later, the two are seen eating lunch together as the attorney is overheard saying, “The truth of the matter is, the vast majority of the winners aren’t bad people.”
When the directors learned about the two getting along, their “minds were blown.” In fact, the first time they were waiting to meet with Mathews, the attorney asked them if they wanted him to call Braun for an interview. “Like, ‘You have his phone number?’” the directors recall. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re friends and then he put him on the phone.”
In the finale, Amy Murray jokes about Doug Mathews not having written her any letters since the case ended. What did you make of their dynamic?
From the beginning of the investigation, the McDonald’s employee played an integral role, helping Mathews with the undercover interviews of the suspicious winners. While there was no hinting that they had a romantic relationship, the two got on from the get-go. (It should also be noted that Mathews is married.) “I’m really happy that everything ended how it did,” Murray says in her final interview, before reading a letter she received from Attorney General John Ashcroft thanking her for her service. “That was a really proud moment... I have no letters from Doug.”
“Well, as Doug described it, they’re half-related. They just had this certain kinship and part of it probably was because Doug is a very likable guy. Amy is in marketing and her whole job is to be pretty likable,” the directors say of the unexpected duo. “And when you get two personalities like that together and they mesh very well. They worked very well together.” To go undercover together -- especially with Murray being a civilian under Mathews’ care and guidance -- “really bonds people in a very big way,” they add.
McMillions: The True Story of the $24 Million McDonald’s Monopoly Game Fraud is now streaming on HBO Go/Now.