Sun, May 15, 2005 - Page 7 News List

`Wendy's finger' identified

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

The severed finger that a woman claimed to have found in a bowl of Wendy's chili in March belongs to a Nevada man who is an associate of the woman's husband, the police in San Jose, California, said.

Police Chief Rob Davis said the man lost a finger in an industrial accident in December. Davis declined to give other details, but the chief did say the identification was a major break in the case, which began on March 22 when Anna Ayala claimed to have found the finger in the chili at a Wendy's in San Jose.

Ayala, a 39-year-old Las Vegas resident, was subsequently arrested and charged in what the police called a hoax. She is in custody in San Jose, being held on US$500,000 bail. She has said she is innocent.

"The puzzle pieces are beginning to fall into place," Davis said. On May 4, he said, the police received a lead through a Wendy's tip line that led them to the associate of Ayala's husband, James Plascencia. The police then confirmed through genetic testing that the finger belonged to Plascencia's associate. Plascencia, 43, was himself arrested earlier this month, charged with being more than US$400,000 in arrears on child support, and with obtaining and using false identification to avoid paying taxes, the police said. He is in custody in Las Vegas and has not yet entered a plea. Prosecutors are exploring whether Plascencia and Ayala conspired to defraud Wendy's and, if so, whether the conspiracy also involved the associate.

Wendy's restaurants have lost tens of millions of dollars in sales since Ayala's accusation. Denny Lynch, senior vice president of the company, which is based in Dublin, Ohio, said sales were returning to normal but had not yet come all the way back.

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