January 18, 2006

Stiff sentence for couple in Wendy’s finger scam

SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - A California court
sentenced a couple to nine years in prison on Wednesday for
planting a severed human finger in a bowl of chili to swindle a
Wendy's fast food restaurant.

Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Edward Davila sentenced
Anna Ayala and her husband, Jaime Plascencia, to nine years
imprisonment for their role in the Wendy's scam, which caused a
sharp fall in sales at the third-largest U.S. burger chain.

The husband was given another three years and four months
for not paying support for the five children he has with
another woman in an unrelated case, giving him a total sentence
of 12 years, four months behind bars.

"Greed and avarice overtook this couple and they lost their
moral compass," Judge Davila said.

Davila also ordered the couple to pay almost $22 million in
restitution but Wendy's officials indicted to the court they
would only seek to collect approximately $170,000, representing
the wages lost by employees at the San Jose restaurant where
working hours were cut back after a downturn in business.

"We are very satisfied with the decision made by the
judge," Wendy's spokesman Denny Lynch said.

Investigators determined Plascencia obtained the piece of
finger from a co-worker who had lost the top of a digit in an
industrial accident at a Las Vegas paving company. The man had
turned over the finger fragment to settle a $50 debt.

Wendy's International, based in Dublin, Ohio, paid a
$100,000 reward for information to help establish the source of
the severed finger.


"I am truly sorry. I owe Wendy's and its employees an
apology," a sobbing Ayala told the court. "Wendy's had always
been my family's favorite fast food restaurant."

She called her actions "a moment of poor judgment," and
told her family: "For all the shame I brought upon them I am
sorry, I am so sorry."

Ayala, 40, who had been a Las Vegas resident, claimed that
she discovered the finger after buying the bowl of chili last
March. She complained about the experience on national
television and hired a lawyer, attracting wide attention to the
bizarre incident.

Ayala's attorney Rick Ehler accused prosecutor David Boyd
of using the media attention to get a tough sentence. "It seems
as though the prosecution tried to exert some judicial pressure
through the media," Ehler said.

"I am extremely remorseful," said Plascencia, 43, who, like
his wife, wore prison clothes to the hearing at which
television cameras were permitted.

Plascencia's attorney Charles Kramer said the probation
department's recommendation of 11 years for his client was

"I was quite surprised at the harshness of the probation
department's recommendation," Kramer said. "Judge Davila going
over and above that shocks me even more."

Company officials said the company lost millions of dollars
as a result of the scam, and that the bad publicity still
lingers. "There is still some sales impact, particularly on the
West Coast," spokesman Bob Bertini said.

At one point the chain gave away free ice cream to try to
lure customers back into its San Jose area restaurants.