Sun, Sep 11, 2005 - Page 7 News List

`Finger-finder,' husband plead guilty to extortion


A woman who fraudulently claimed she found a human finger in her bowl of Wendy's chili in a scheme to extort money from the fast food chain could spend up to a decade in prison after pleading guilty to all charges.

Both Anna Ayala, 39, and her husband, Jaime Placencia, 43, pleaded guilty in Santa Clara County Superior Court to felony charges of conspiracy to file a false claim and attempted grand theft from Wendy's International, which claimed it lost US$2.5 million in sales because of bad publicity.

Wendy's president and chief executive officer Tom Mueller said he hoped the guilty pleas would "send a strong message and serve as a deterrent to others who may contemplate a fraudulent crime against the restaurant industry."

Ayala claimed to have found the fingertip on March 22 while eating chili with her family at a Wendy's in San Jose. Authorities said they believed it was a hoax, but the story of the tasteless finger food quickly circled the globe and became fodder for late-night comedy.

A search for the finger's owner eventually led to one of Placencia's co-workers, who lost it in an industrial accident in Las Vegas, police said.

Ayala was arrested in April in her Nevada home and accused of trying to shake down Wendy's by filing a claim against the restaurant chain. Investigators discovered that she had filed numerous legal claims against businesses in her name or for her children.

Wendy's said no employees at the San Jose restaurant were missing fingers, and no suppliers of chili ingredients had reported any finger injuries.

The couple are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 2.

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