If you’ve watched HBO’s “McMillions,” about the McDonald’s Monopoly scam, you’d know the absolutely wild story is truly stranger than fiction. “It is very much, if I wrote a script about this and put that in there and gave it to friends to read, they’d be like, ‘Pshhh, that’s not real, that’s just not a believable thing,’” James Lee Hernandez, who co-directed the show with Brian Lazarte, told Gold Derby during our Meet the Experts: Documentary panel (watch above). “But that’s really what happened.”
A six-part series, “McMillions” uncovers how Jerry “Uncle Jerry” Jacobson, then the head of security of the marketing firm working on the game, defrauded $24 million between 1989 and 2001, resulting in nearly no legitimate winner of the $1 million prize during that period. The story involves the Italian mob, an undercover operation, a strip club-turned-strip church called the Fuzzy Bunny, and a colorful array of characters, including FBI agent and breakout star Doug Mathews, who got the ball rolling on the whole investigation in 2001 as a rookie.
It was also the FBI that was eager to discuss the case after Hernandez — who stumbled upon it on Reddit in 2012 — contacted them when his Freedom of Information request went through after three years in 2017. “All of the agents and the federal prosecutor, Mark Devereaux, said this was their favorite case they ever worked and no one had ever contacted them about it and they’d love to participate in anything,” Hernandez shared. “I was immediately on a plane to Jacksonville to meet all of them in person.”
Hernandez and Lazarte interviewed almost every key figure, except Jacobson, to whom they talked off the record but would not agree to go on camera. “I don’t know if I’ll ever stop the search for Uncle Jerry. It’s like the great white buffalo,” Hernandez mused. “We always thought this would be a great time for him to own up to what he’s done. He ended up, really through his greed, ruining major companies, affecting numerous lives — thousands of people lost their jobs — so eventually we got to talk to him, but he’s the type of person, as you can see on the show, who likes to just put the horse blinders on and if he doesn’t acknowledge that it’s a real thing, then it just isn’t a real thing within his bubble.”
Whether or not Uncle Jerry ever talks, one thing is definitely happening: a new project with Mathews. “Doug is a superstar now. He talks about not being able to go to the gym anymore!” Hernandez said with a laugh. “We’re definitely working on something with him that takes the fun and interesting tone of ‘McMillions’ yet the ability to be serious and just takes that to the next level with other cases that he’s worked. It’s going to be really fun. He’s very excited about it, but I don’t know if there’s anything that he does that he doesn’t get extremely excited about.”
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