- "McMillions" directors James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte talk to Insider about the final episode of their hit HBO documentary series.
- The duo also look back on the show and talk about some of the highlights.
- They also walked us through one hilarious scene that was cut from the final episode in which fan-favorite of the show, FBI Agent Doug Mathews, tries to wear the gold suit referenced in the first episode.
- They also reveal the surprising way they found out who the FBI's informant was.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
The sixth and final episode of HBO's "McMillions" aired on Monday night and put a bow on the stranger-than-fiction story of how the FBI uncovered a $24 million decade-long fraud surrounding the McDonald's Monopoly game.
Directors James Lee Hernandez — who learned about the scheme after scrolling through Reddit late one night in 2012 — and Brian Lazarte spent years gaining the trust of FBI agents and "winners" who benefited from the scam (until they got busted in 2001) to recount how it all went down.
It resulted in a documentary series for HBO, produced by Mark Wahlberg's production company, that has received high praise for its colorful characters and fascinating revelations. From breakout star FBI agent Doug Mathews to the Mafia's involvement, the docuseries was a wild ride.
In the finale, all questions are answered. We learn how the scheme's mastermind Jerry Jacobson — known as "Uncle Jerry" in the show — was able to obtain the winning pieces and distribute them to his friends. We also finally learn the identity of the informant who notified the FBI.
Insider chatted with Hernandez and Lazarte about what is uncovered in the final episode. They also look back on some of the memorable moments from the series and explain a moment from fan-favorite Mathews that had to be cut from the episode.
Warning: Major spoilers below if you have not watched the final episode of "McMillions."
There could someday be a one-hour special on Uncle Jerry
Jason Guerrasio: You never got Jerry Jacobson on camera for an interview? Did you guys ever get close?
James Lee Hernandez: It was obviously always the goal. It was a weird obsession with this one person to try to get. Actually, the first phone call that I ever made back in 2013 was to Jerry Jacobson. I spoke to his wife and she was not receptive. So that really kicked off going after the FBI.
But it was something that we constantly did and we reached out in many different ways. We ended up getting to people who were absolutely the closest to him. His son, his ex-wives. We did get close to getting Jerry and we do continue to try because to us, this project was never about doing a cool TV show and walking away. It was a passion project for us and we wanted everyone to tell their stories for themselves and not have everyone tell it for them. So hopefully one day there might be a random one-hour special on HBO on Uncle Jerry.
Guerrasio: Did it ever get to the point where you scheduled a time to sit down with Jerry?
Brian Lazarte: I actually don't know if we're allowed to say, but there were communications in some capacity. Similar to Rick Dent who was the federal agent who we introduced in the first episode who had the Post-It on his computer that said "McDonald's Monopoly Fraud?" He didn't appear on camera but we met Rick over the course of two days. We sat with him for probably a total of six or seven hours over two days. He shared with us a great deal but he's at a different point in his life and he's moved on from the Bureau and he just didn't want to go on camera. And we respected that.
With Jerry, what we learned is he's at a place in his life that this is very much behind him. He doesn't want to revisit it. And for what it's worth, he doesn't want to hurt anyone else. There's a lot of reasons why someone doesn't want to go on camera for a documentary and most of it has to do with fear and this was an embarrassing moment in his life.
Guerrasio: But I would imagine if Jerry called you guys tomorrow and said he wanted to tell his side you would jump on that.
Hernandez: Oh yeah. Definitely.
Lazarte: If he wants to do a special with us, the door is wide open.
Guerrasio: Has Jerry even seen the show?
Hernandez: From what we've heard, he has not seen it but he has had the content of it explained to him.
Guerrasio: [Laughs.] OK.
Hernandez: It's so weird.
Lazarte: He doesn't have HBO, that was the problem.
Hernandez: I mean, we can get him a subscription.
How they found out who the FBI's informant was
Guerrasio: The finale also reveals that the FBI informant was the mother of the mob connection to the scheme, Jerry Colombo. When were you given that information?
Hernandez: It was much later in making this. It was at the end. And it was just thrown out to us. We were looking into this and talked to so many people. From the FBI side, they would never reveal who the informant was. So we figured we would never know. But we decided when we do our interviews we're just going to ask everyone who they think it is. So there were all these rumors of who was the informant and theories. It took us down this rabbit hole. And we felt they were all plausible.
Then all of a sudden, we did our interview with Frank and Heather Colombo and in the middle of the interview, they just dropped the bomb on us and told us who it was. We were like, "Did that just happen?"
Guerrasio: So no prompting by you guys, they just came out and said it?
Hernandez: No. Totally unprompted. They were telling us a story about some of the family drama and then it curved into that reveal. Everyone on the crew just stopped and looked at one another. So the way it's cut in the show is how we learned it. We went through all these theories and then finally got the information from Frank.
On moment from the docuseries was cut because of HBO's legal department
Guerrasio: Jerry Jacobson would really show up to the office with the winning tickets wearing a bulletproof vest?
Hernandez: It was really the charade of security. He would make such a big deal out of it that it became the person who makes the most noise gets the least attention. So to show how secure the process was, he would wear a bulletproof vest.
Guerrasio: That's just one of many really entertaining and sometimes disturbing factoids you give about Jerry throughout the episodes. Is there one that sticks out that didn't make it in the show?
Hernandez: [Laughs.] Yeah, there is.
Lazarte: Um, I don't think legally we can tell the most interesting one.
Guerrasio: Oh, we have to get HBO legal on the phone?
Hernandez: Yeah, they actually made us take it out of the show.
Lazarte: It was one of those things where they were like, "Is there evidence to support that?"
Hernandez: The thought was one person could make something up just to get somebody else in trouble.
Lazarte: One of the least harmless things we didn't get in, and we talked about it on the "McMillions" podcast, was the ribs Jerry made. We would hear that he made phenomenal ribs and his son corroborated this. It was known to be a family secret recipe. And many years later, after Jerry got out of prison, Jerry's son is over his house one day and Jerry is making ribs, and he asks his wife, "Where's my sauce?" and his wife goes, "Here it is," and gives him a container of Sweet Baby Ray's.
Hernandez: Just a regular bottle of barbecue sauce.
Lazarte: So his son goes, "Wait, so you're telling me this whole time your secret sauce recipe was Sweet Baby Ray's?" [Laughs.] It's a harmless little thing.
Guerrasio: But it speaks a lot about the man. He loved to sell the con.
Hernandez: Yes. It's a microcosm of the whole thing.
What it was like filming FBI Agent Doug Mathews and a deleted scene involving the gold suit
Guerrasio: What has the experience been like to promote this show and just talk to people who are fans of it and get their reaction of Agent Doug Mathews? He will go down as one of the most memorable documentary subjects ever.
Hernandez: He literally is famous now. Any time we do press, people ask about him. But the best reaction is just going on Twitter. People are blown away that he's an actual FBI agent. That he was able to pull all this off and he's a nut. But he's also a brilliant agent. And did it all as a rookie. He also has quite the female following.
Hernandez: One of my favorite posts I've ever seen on Twitter was some woman posted, "The biggest crime with 'McMillions' is this," and it's a close-up shot of Mathews wedding ring.
Lazarte: He has so many fans and the gold suite is the pinnacle. And I'll tell you this, we mention it in the final podcast episode, there was a deleted scene in the final episode where Doug Mathews decided to wear the gold suit to the first day of the trial.
Hernandez: [Assistant US Attorney Mark] Devereaeux loses his mind and kicks Mathews out of the courtroom. So Mathews leaves, he's told to go home and change, and he comes back and he has this purple shirt on and gets kicked out again.
Guerrasio: Grimace-trolling purple?
Lazarte: We hope to do more with Doug. We're trying to get a few more things moving. Once he retires from the Bureau, he's still an active agent, so there's a process. He has some time to figure out what he wants to do, but we would love to see him doing more than just hanging out behind the desk.
Guerrasio: So was that all one interview, Mathews behind the desk?
Lazarte: We interviewed him twice, but that was the one main interview. I mean he was with us for an entire day, you can see the sun going down in one of the shots. He did not stop. It was over six and a half hours. He didn't even want to take a lunch. If it wasn't for our crew needing to eat he would have just kept going.
On their favorite episodes and what's next
Guerrasio: Do you guys have a favorite episode from the show?
Hernandez: I love every second of it, but episode five is so awesome because you see the two worlds collide. The FBI and the "winners."
Lazarte: I feel episode three for me is one where things shift. It's got a great beginning and the strongest cliffhanger of the series. You realize there's so much more. I love that.
Guerrasio: "McMillions" marked the first time you two worked together. Going forward, do you still want to continue to team up?
Lazarte: It was an incredible opportunity to collaborate and use our strengths as one and we found that it wasn't just fun but incredibly effective. We are actively pitching other projects, have things in the works as a team. We started our own company, Fun Meter, in line with Doug Mathews' way of life. What hits his "fun meter," as he says in the show.
Guerrasio: James, this all started with you being up late reading Reddit, seeing a small blurb about the scheme and then realizing nothing much had been done about what happened. Is it cool to look back and see how things turned out with the show? Can you even imagine doing another project that is this wild and fascinating to do?
Hernandez: I'd be lying to you if I said yes. When I first read it, I was so interested in wanting to know more. And when I got to the point where I realized no one had done anything about it I felt it was just calling me to do it. I always thought in a negative, how sad I would be if somebody started doing a story on this and it wasn't me. So getting this deep and how it all played out — working with Brian and Mark Wahlberg, and HBO supporting us, and seeing the ads — I'm so proud how the show turned out.
This came from nothing. It happened in history, but the show, hey, anyone can achieve anything if you put in the time and work.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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