Audiences watching HBO's new docu-series "McMillion$" may be astounded by the breadth of the conspiracy to defraud McDonalds of tens of millions of dollars –– while others may be more drawn to the colorful cast of characters who make up the scheme.
One of such these characters would be Genarro Colombo, who played a key role in helping fraud mastermind Jerome Jacobson pull off the $24-million scam of the Monopoly promotion game.
Although Jacobson kicked off the scheme by stealing winning game pieces from his workplace and distributing them to friends and family, authorities alleged his connection with Colombo helped him take the scheme to another level –– especially aided by Gennaro's connections to an infamous Mafia family active in New York City: The Colombo Crime Family.
The Colombo Family is one of New York City's "Five Families," vast criminal enterprises which were established by the Mafia in 1931, according to The New York Times. The Colombo Family is the youngest of the five organizations and was responsible for dozens of murders and criminal rackets in the NYC area for decades. The family was started in 1928 by importer Joe Profaci and quickly rose to become a feared presence in the underworld – with hands in various criminal enterprises like extortion and protection rackets, an historical overview of the Family from The New York Post reported.
Colombo's membership in the Family is confirmed by his wife Robin and his brother Frank Colombo in the documentary. Robin talks about his connections to a godfather named "Uncle Dominic" who was served as Gennaro's main point of contact with the Colombo organization and who helped Gennaro find various jobs and cons to work on.
The Family itself was also known for various colorful gangland figures like “Crazy Joe” Gallo, who kept a mountain lion in his New York apartment, the Post reported, and Gregory “The Grim Reaper” Scarpa, an informant and hitman who the FBI believes killed perhaps over 100 people according to investigation records.
Gennaro's family insists he was also something of a lively figure in his field of work.
"Take Marlon Brando and Joe Pesci and put them together ... you'd probably end up with my brother," Frank Colombo recounted about Gennaro in the documentary. Giving further thought to the subject, Frank later describes his brother as a mix between Al Capone and Rodney Dangerfield.
In 1995, Gennaro meets and forges a partnership with Jacobson, The Daily Beast recounted. He was allegedly referred to Jacobson's scheme to fix the McDonalds Monopoly game by his connections in organized crime. "Uncle Dominic" was the person who linked Gennaro to Jacobson, according to Frank.
But Robin also tells the filmmakers that Dominic died soon after allegedly linking the two men together –– dodging a question on how Dominic died. Likewise, it is not made clear if Uncle Dominic is a pseudonym for some other figure of prominence in the Colombo organization.
After linking up, Gennaro helped Jacobson establish a network of "recruiters" to pass along the winning Monopoly pieces he was stealing from his workplace, according to The New York Times.
In exchange for finding recruits to claim the prizes, Jacobson and his associates like Gennaro would take a cut from these recruits. Robin recounts that her husband flew around the country picking the winners and Frank recalling that his brother would create various agreements depending on the prize amount, usually involving upfront payments for the winning piece.
Frank describes his brother as having a vaguely threatening aura that helped him compel his recruits to follow his commands. One of the winners, Gloria Brown, recounts how Gennaro even pressured her into taking out a new mortgage on her house in order to get upfront money for the winning game piece.
"My life was in danger," Brown said. "I almost felt kidnapped."
Though even Gennaro himself stepped into the spotlight by using a stolen game piece to "win" a Dodge Viper.
Reporter Jeff Maysh had even uncovered an old McDonalds commercial featuring Colombo touting a win for a new car –– arraigned by Jacobson. The advertisement is also featured in "McMillion$."
His wife Robin said in the documentary "that commercial ... that almost cost him his life" going on to describe him as a "ham."
The series itself helps accentuate Gennaro's larger-than-life personality by talking about into his management of a night club known as the Church of The Fuzzy Bunny – at first a gentleman's club that he then attempted to turn into a religious establishment that prominently featured scantily clad women.
Robin explains she met Gennaro in 1995 and "the chemistry was crazy," she told the filmmakers –– describing the marriage as a rebellion against her "strict" family while displaying her excitement in talking about Gennaro's ties to organized crime.
However, Robin contends that Jacobson is the true "Uncle Jerry" that was behind the scam – after briefly confusing the documentarians while frequently using "Uncle Jerry," to refer to Jacobson, and Jerry, referring to her husband.
But Gennaro himself would not ultimately be around for the collapse of the scheme. Just three years after meeting Jacobson, Gennaro would be involved in a horrific car crash in Georgia that sent him into a comatose state. Doctors turned off his life support two weeks later, according to The Daily Beast, and Jacobson soon moved on to find new accomplices.
More of the story will be illuminated in HBO's "McMillion$," which is currently airing on HBO.
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