Tuesday, May. 19, 2009

Finger Foods

In 2005, while eating chili at a Wendy's in San Jose, Calif., Anna Ayala claimed to bite into a 1½-inch "crunchy" finger. In the first step toward a potentially lucrative lawsuit, Ayala filed a claim with the franchise, earning her tabloid notoriety and turning the fast-food chain into a national punch line. Ayala's story started sounding fishy, however, when lab tests turned up no traces of saliva on the offending digit. A "CSI type of investigation," as San Jose police chief Rob Davis put it, soon revealed that the finger "was not consistent with an object that had been cooked in chili at 170° for three hours," per Wendy's policy — and therefore must have been planted in the chili after the fact. As it turned out, Ayala's husband, Jaime Plascencia, had bought the severed finger from a co-worker — who had recently lost it in an on-the-job accident — for $100. The couple had offered the man, Brian Rossiter, $250,000 to keep the plan under wraps.

In September 2005, Ayala and Plascencia pleaded guilty to conspiracy to file a false insurance claim and attempted grand theft with damages exceeding $2.5 million. Ayala was sentenced to nine years in prison; Plascencia got 12. In a tearful courtroom appeal for leniency, Ayala called the scam a "moment of poor judgment." The lesson here: if you're going to plant a finger in your food to extort money from a corporation, make sure it's fully cooked.