01/20/06 — Appropriate: Chili finger couple going to prison

View Archive

Appropriate: Chili finger couple going to prison

A judge out in San Jose, Calif., has sentenced a woman and her husband to long prison terms for a hoax that cost Wendy’s millions in lost sales.

A co-worker of Jaime Plascencia lost a finger in a workplace accident. Plascencia apparently brought the severed finger home, and he and his wife, Anna Ayala, cooked up a get-rich-quick scheme.

Later, while eating a bowl of chili at Wendy’s, Ayala claimed she had bitten down on “something hard and crunchy” and spat out the finger. “Just knowing there was a human remain in my mouth is tearing me apart inside,” she declared, describing the alleged incident.

She filed an insurance claim and demanded payment from Wendy’s.

She played it to the hilt while Wendy’s officials conducted an investigation that disputed her claim.

Among other things, they found the finger had never been cooked.

When reporters asked Ayala if she had put the finger in the chili, she demanded, “Where would I get a damn finger?”

The investigation answered that question.

Meanwhile, Wendy’s was losing $2.5 million in sales as a gagging public shied away from the business. Dozens of Wendy’s employees had to be laid off.

At a recent court session, the husband-and-wife team admitted to the conspiracy.

Judge Edward Davila sentenced Ayala to nine years in prison. Her husband was sentenced to more than 12 years. He said the couple had “lost their moral compass.”

Our courts increasingly are taking a dim view of frivolous lawsuits. But the San Jose couple went far beyond frivolity in their actions. It was outright fraud costing a respected company millions and subjecting its employees to international embarrassment and scorn.

Judge Davila’s sentences were appropriate. And Ayala and Plascencia may not yet have seen their last day in a courtroom.

Published in Editorials on January 20, 2006 9:32 AM