Applied Ethics

In November of 1995, a McDonald’s game piece worth $1 million showed up in the mail at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. St. Jude’s Hospital is an organization whose mission is to find cures for dying children. McDonald’s generously waived the rules that only the winner could claim the winnings, and paid St. Jude’s $50,000 in annual installments. It was the largest anonymous gift in St. Jude’s history. No one ever took credit for the donation. Everyone just thought it just came from deep pockets with a big heart.

Twenty-one individuals were accused of rigging McDonald’s monopoly game, “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire”, and other promotional games. An indictment charged the perpetrators with embezzling more than $20 million in winning game pieces in an alleged fraud that began in the late 1980s. Prosecutors stated that customers had little chance of winning before the FBI, with McDonald’s help, shut it down. Additionally, prosecutors argued that larceny, not charity, inspired the perpetrators to play Santa to St. Jude’s.

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Both St. Jude’s and McDonald’s were surprised when CNN broke the story and identified the mystery Santa as the aforementioned team of thieves. Did McDonald’s ask for its money back? No, although St. Jude’s said it would do whatever McDonald’s wanted. In an official statement, a spokesperson for McDonald’s stated that the restaurant chain had no intention of asking for its money back. McDonald’s kept its word and paid out the sum in full, sending the final check to St. Jude’s in 2014.

In your view, did the perpetrators of this act of fraud and thievery commit moral wrongdoing? Is it morally justifiable to steal from corporations and fund life-saving research for the betterment of society? Of children? Using one of the moral theories from this course to bolster support for your view, do your best to attempt to definitely answer whether or not the fraudulent actions of the perpetrators of this act of theft performed a morally right or wrong act.


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