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McDonald’s communications manager Amy Murray was sweating, and not just because of the weather. It was a muggy August morning in 2001, and she stood on the porch of Michael Hoover's nondescript townhome in Westerly, Rhode Island. The casino pit boss waiting inside was the latest winner of a promotional game that enticed customers to collect Monopoly “pieces” from the sides of the fast food chain’s signature red boxes and in magazine inserts. Winners were promised “big time prizes!” like tropical vacations and free fries.
But Hoover hadn't found a free McFlurry. The piece he peeled out of a People was the whopping $1 million grand prize.
Only, he hadn't really won. Not fairly, anyway. Murray—there under the guise of filming a public relations video—was actually part of a top-secret FBI mission to prove Hoover's involvement in a scheme to cheat the country's second largest fast food chain, and its 69 million customers, out of the game.
She took a deep breath and knocked.
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For years, the beloved McDonald's Monopoly game was rigged by a motley crew of mobsters, ex-cops, and one Mormon church leader. The Rhode Island “McSting” (so-called by writer Jeff Maysh in 2018) was the catapult for a much larger undertaking to bust the restaurant industry’s most notorious criminal ring—and Murray was key to its success. When she first connected with federal agents earlier that summer, she was sworn to secrecy about her involvement. Now her role in the operation has been revealed in HBO's Mark Wahlberg-produced docuseries McMillion$.
“I used to downplay it all,” the polite Midwesterner tells me via phone from the McDonald's headquarters in Chicago. “It's not exactly dinner party conversation to say you went undercover with the FBI.”
But the truth is that the supersized-case could not have been cracked without her. In McMillion$, lead FBI investigator Doug Matthews says they considered having everybody working the case be FBI personnel, “but the way that this scenario had to run, you needed somebody inside McDonald's with that background that would be hard to fake.”
“Amy,” Matthews says in the series, “worked her McDonald's magic. [She] was phenomenal.”
Murray was 30 years old when she added the FBI to her speed dial. She'd been a loyal McDonald's employee her entire professional life, having risen through the ranks to lead its “games” department. She's still with the company today as the senior director of global marketing, but back then her job consisted entirely of building relationships with Monopoly winners. She facilitated their publicity by setting up press conferences and television interviews.
Once described as the company's “McQueen” by a former Ronald McDonald clown, Murray was known as a likable but tough public relations staffer around the office. And with direct access to winners, she was the ideal undercover operative.
Earlier that summer, Murray's boss called her into his office and said: “The McDonald's Monopoly game pieces are being stolen. The entire game could be compromised by a criminal ring.”
“We need you,” he told her.
Murray's stomach did a flip. Her whole career hinged around the game. “It was horrible to think about all these customers that had been playing the game, and that the pieces could be compromised,” she tells me now. "I thought, ‘Who could this have possibly done this and how?’ To me, it felt like an act of shock and a betrayal.”
Murray's new task was kept hush hush. For months, she snuck off to conference rooms to make covert calls. When co-workers asked, she said it a special "project." Really, she was dialing up winners, recording their conversations, and handing tapes over to law enforcement.
Photo courtesy Amy Murray
All those hours spent talking to game players culminated in the August visit to Hoover's home. Agent Matthews had reason to believe Hoover duped McDonald's, and requested Murray set up a meeting with him to film a promotional video about Monopoly winners. The real reason for the visit, of course, was to dig up incriminating evidence.
The morning of the McSting, Murray met half a dozen agents posing as producers and cameramen at a Rhode Island airport. "I was excited," Murray says.“I wanted to be part of helping make this right as fast as possible, because there was a lot of urgency. The game was still going on at the time and nailing this person was top priority.”
The McSting was a major McSuccess. According to assistant U.S. attorney Mark Devereaux in McMillion$, shortly after Murray and her crew left, Hoover called a friend and said: “They were here. They believed everything. Everything I told them about winning a ticket in a People magazine.”
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The admission led authorities to other fraudulent winners and, eventually, helped them identify former police officer Jerome Jacobson, or “Uncle Jerry,” as the brains behind the nationwide scam that netted a whopping $24 million. Jacobson, a former security director of the marketing company that manufactured the McDonald's game pieces, had made sure the winning ones ended up in the hands of his friends, including a well-respected Mormon dad and a member of the infamous Colombo crime family. To protect himself, Jacobson reportedly mailed a $1 million game piece to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee, in the hopes that if he got caught, the act might ease his sentence.
According to Newsweek, Hoover was named in an indictment for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, but it's not clear “whether he was convicted and sentenced or not.”
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Murray says that until McMillion$ debuted on February 3, 2020, her friends and family didn't know how involved she was in the case. “They have been in disbelief,” she says. “I'm still sort of in disbelief, too.”
As a reminder that she did, in fact, help law enforcement catch a con artist, Murray uses an FBI mousepad in her McDonald's office and keeps a thank you letter from Agent Matthews in a drawer at home. One of these days, she says, she'll remember to frame and hang it up.