January 18, 2006
Couple Gets 9 Years Prison for Wendy’s Finger Scam
SAN JOSE, California -- 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.
A judge in Santa Clara Superior Court 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.
Both received near the maximum possible punishment in their cases.
"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, 39, who had been a Las Vegas resident, had initially claimed that she discovered the finger after buying the bowl of chili last March. She hired a lawyer and complained publicly about the experience, attracting wide attention to the seemingly bizarre incident.
Investigators later determined Plascencia obtained the piece of finger from a co-worker who had lost the top of a finger in an industrial accident at a Las Vegas paving company. The man had turned over the finger fragment to settle a $50 debt.
"I am extremely remorseful," said Plascencia, 43, who, like his wife, wore prison garb to the hearing at which television cameras were permitted.
Wendy's International, based in Dublin, Ohio, paid a $100,000 reward for information to help establish the source of the severed finger.
Company officials said it took Wendy's months to recover from the bad publicity and lost millions of dollars in sales because of the incident. At one point it gave away free ice cream to try to lure customers back into its San Jose area restaurants.