The smile was knocked of Ronald McDonald's face when the fast-food giant was defrauded of $13m in illegally claimed prizes.
An FBI investigation which began in April last year has uncovered a scam, which resulted in the arrest of eight people who allegedly rigged game promotions, including "Monopoly" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?", run by the burger franchise. The fraud is said to have run for six years.
A suspect, Jerome Jacobson, from Georgia, worked for Simon Marketing Inc, which controlled the distribution of the games. The FBI said the fraud involved the suspects obtaining winning game pieces from Simon Marketing,recruiting friends and relatives to pose as winners, and then sharing out the prizes. Typically, the games offered prizes such as $1m in cash, cars and electronics goods.
The United States Attorney General, John Ashcroft, said: "Those involved in this type of corruption will find out that breaking the law is not a game. This fraud scheme denied McDonald's customers a fair and equal chance of winning."
McDonald's was unaware of the FBI investigation until a month after it started. An FBI spokesman said McDonald's was asked to continue with the promotional games to allow the agents to gather more evidence.
A spokesman for the burger chain said none of the eight suspects were employed by the company, and that it "was victimised by a long-time supplier and a sophisticated inside game of fraud and deception". The spokesman said McDonald's was ending its relationship with Simon Marketing. The Los Angeles-based marketing firm declined to comment.
The FBI's investigation is continuing.