Greenville featured in new HBO series, McMillions

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Screenshot of the Greenville News building from HBO’s McMillions

ICYMI, there’s a new documentary series currently airing on HBO called McMillions.

A little backstory on the show: 

During the 1990s, y’all might remember playing McDonald’s Monopoly game promotion where you could win prizes if you were lucky enough to receive a winning game piece with your meal. Prizes ranged from as small as a free sandwich to as large as some big bucks – some up to $1 million, to be specific.

Did it ever feel like you never really had a chance at winning? Turns out, you’d be right. This new series explores how the game was rigged + the FBI’s investigation into who was behind it. 

Oh, and by the way, our city of Greenville makes a pretty huge appearance in this past Monday’s episode.

So, how was Greenville involved?

The culprits of the McDonald’s Monopoly scheme were spread all across the country, and so in order for the FBI to provide information to the numerous FBI offices throughout the U.S. that they were going to need assistance from, they put together a huge 20 to 30-page communication/investigation plan to send to the other agents. When a certain agent went to fax this plan to the Greenville FBI, they instead accidentally faxed it to the Greenville News. They had accidentally sent their entire plan to, as one of the interviewees in the documentary, Mark Devereaux – assistant U.S. attorney, states, “probably the worst person in the world – a news agency.”

In Monday’s episode, we also see a cameo from John Boyanoski. John, now President of Complete PR here in Greenville, was the crime + courts reporter for the Greenville News back in 2001. It was John who walked into work the next morning and saw the stack of papers with the FBI logo laying on his desk. We reached out to John to ask him about his experience.

Screenshot of John Boyanoski from HBO’s McMillions

He says, “…I saw the FBI logo and figured it was something to do with an arrest…the FBI and US Attorneys’ Office would fax over press releases on cases…after about three paragraphs, I realized this was information on an active investigation…There were surveillance notes, transcripts of calls, plans for more surveillance…This wasn’t a press release. I spun around in my chair and asked the City Editor David Dykes…if he knew where this had come from?…I said something to the effect of ‘David, I don’t think we are supposed to have this. It looks like an active investigation.’ I handed him the stack…his eyes widened. ‘You’re right, were not supposed to have this.’”

Later that day, the FBI flew from Jacksonville to Greenville to try and fix the issue. They knew that the Greenville News technically had no requirement to not share the info they’d received. The FBI begged + pleaded for them not to release the story.

John told us, “…we talked about what options we had with this document. Do we run with it?…I, of course, being the kid [24 years old], wanted to run it. The FBI was actively investigating the fraud of the McDonald’s/Monopoly game…That was a story. Weston [managing editor] overruled me and said it wasn’t a story. We hadn’t found the information on our own…Publishing the story served no purpose. He was right…But back in 2001, I was – not mad – but annoyed…I felt this was going to make me famous. But Weston was right…it was decided that Weston would call the FBI and let them know we had this vital document…the general agreement was we were going to be giving back the document and the News would get some kind of heads up when everything went down. Not an exclusive story, but we would get some more access. On one condition, that we wouldn’t tell anyone about the wayward fax.”

Now, John says that years later, when someone from the HBO crew reached out to interview him, “…he asked if I remembered anything about the McDonald’s case. I said I remember covering it and how a good portion of it centered on the Upstate and that was the part I wrote the most…He then asked his real question. Was I the reporter who got a mistaken fax about the case?”

The man told John that the FBI told him that they had mistakenly faxed him the information. Suspicious, John asked who at the FBI had given him this information. He got a name + called that agent to be sure that he was allowed to tell the fax story. “Aside from the three editors, I doubt I had ever discussed this story outside of maybe 10 people. And most of them worked at the newspaper with me. It wasn’t quite a vow of silence on my part, but my wife didn’t even know the story. The agent, God bless him, kind of laughed. He said he appreciated my candor, but it had been almost two decades. I could tell my story.

And John does tell his story in this past week’s episode of McMillions. You can watch that episode and the rest of the show on HBO.

 

Shout out to reader, Eddie S., for letting us know that Greenville was talked about in this past Monday’s episode + that we needed to look into this story.