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Wendy's Chili Finger Case

In: Historical Events

Submitted By phatle07
Words 1216
Pages 5
Case: Wendy’s and the Finger-in-the-Chili

In March 2005, Anna Ayala, a Las Vegas resident visiting San Jose, California, went to Wendy’s with her family. She ordered a bowl of Beef Chili. She said she bit into a spoon of chili and “suddenly I chewed something that’s kind of hard, crunch. I spit it out.” She said that’s when she realized the crunchy item was a 1 and half inch human finger well manicured nail. She hired a lawyer and sued.
Denny Lynch, Senior VP of communication for Wendy’s international faced a crisis that innocent food based companies fear. When a customer commits a vicious act that cost other’s to turn away from the restaurant, or product. Lynch received a call that night from Bob Bertini, Wendy’s director of Communications, explaining what happened. Lynch had to act immediately. Lynch and Bertini constantly dealt with the media for the next 60 days.
At first Santa Clara county health dept. had sympathy for Ms. Ayala and said she was ill and distraught so emotionally upset causing her to vomit. The Health Dept. released photos of the finger to media. The national news coverage intensified. The health dept. stated that there was no public health risk.

Wendy’s then needed to place a plan into action, First Wendy’s regional management team set up a makeshift control room in a franchise office in San Jose, and the police were involved, as was the coroner.

Wendy’s crisis management strategy centered on four areas:

1. Conducting due diligence to establish the brand was not at fault. 2. Ensuring the Wendy’s key company values drove all decisions and activities. 3. Briefing and mobilizing team members for quick action and response as events unfolded. 4. Building a post-incident campaign that enhanced Wendy’s brand.
The Initial Effects
Initially, county health officials said Ayala was fine and the finger had been cooked, which would have killed any bacteria in the finger. However, on March 27, officials admitted they were not so sure anymore. Tests were done on the finger to determine this. Dr. Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County's health officer, said that even if the finger was still raw when Ayala bit into it, the risk was low that she would have become infected with anything. However, he advised that Ayala should undergo a series of precautionary follow-up tests.
Sales at Wendy's went down because of the incident.
April 5th, officials had still not succeeded in tracking down the owner of the finger. The fingerprint on the detached digit has been run through an FBI database as well as the local criminal database in Santa Clara County, but no matches were found.
The Investigation
The next day, on Wednesday the 6th, Las Vegas police searched the home of Anna Ayala. About a dozen officers conducted the search at Ayala's home at Maryland Parkway and Serene Street at about 4 p.m, according to witnesses at the scene. Ayala and other residents were handcuffed and brought out of the house. San Jose, police spokeswoman Gina Tepoorten confirmed to reporters that investigators had served the warrant in cooperation with Las Vegas police on Wednesday, but she refused to reveal specific details about the warrant. Wendy's was offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the source of the finger.

Research by the Associated Press uncovered Ayala's history of lawsuits. Ayala successfully won her suit for medical expenses against the national El Pollo Loco chicken-chain, a previous employer, after her daughter Genesis contracted salmonella poisoning, allegedly from eating at the restaurant. However, Ayala lost another suit against General Motors in 2000 claiming that a wheel fell off her car. She also started a sexual harassment suit against her former boss in 1998. A total of 13 lawsuits in California and Nevada had been filed. Ayala replied the focus should be on Wendy's, and not her record of law suits. Nick Muyo, a spokesman for the San Jose Police department, said not to expect new information in the case for at least a week.

The Twist
On Wednesday the 13th there was a potential new lead in the investigation. A spotted leopard had torn off part of a finger from an owner of exotic animals, Sandy Allman, in Pahrump, Nevada. The portion of Allman's torn off finger was approximately the same size - 1 1/2-inches long. Pahrump is approximately 45 miles away from Las Vegas. Carol Asvestas, who owns an exotic animal sanctuary, told the San Jose Mercury News she witnessed the leopard tear off the finger. She reported the incident to a hotline run by Wendy's offering the $50,000 reward. Cindy Carroccio told the San Jose Mercury News that the finger was not reattached, and that the clinic "gave it back to her (Allman) in a little bag of ice." On the same day the lead was announced, Ayala decided to drop her lawsuit against Wendy's, due to emotional stress. Prints were later sent off and the finger did not match the prints for Allman, leaving the new lead to a hault.

The Arrest
On Thursday the 21st of April, Anna Ayala was arrested at or near her home in Las Vegas on Thursday evening, in connection with the case, shortly after Wendy's finished its own internal investigation. According to court documents, she has been charged with one count of attempted grand larceny related to the chili case, and one count of grand larceny in an unrelated real estate deal, and is being held without bail in Clark County, Nevada, pending extradition. A press conference by the San Jose Police and Wendy's was held on Friday, April 22, The charge related to the case states the finger could not have been prepared at Wendy's, where the chili is heated to 170 degrees for 3 hours. There is also an inconsistency in Ayala's account of finding the finger and claiming it caused her to vomit compared with police saying there was no vomit at the scene. The incident has caused Wendy's 2.5 million dollars worth of damages, which Ayala could be criminally responsible for. Until recently, the San Jose police had not accused Ayala of planting the finger herself.

The unrelated charge stems from an incident, also in San Jose, when Ayala allegedly received an $11,000 down payment on a mobile home she did not own.

Ayala was incarcerated at the Clark County Detention Center, awaiting a fugitive review hearing on Tuesday, April 26, 2005, She was processed. Ayala waived extradition at the hearing, and her attorney said they were ready to come to San Jose to defend against the charges. On September 9, 2005, Ayala plead guilty to conspiring to file a false claim and attempted grand theft, and will be sentenced on November 2, 2005. She faces up to ten years in prison, and her husband faces up to 13 years behind bars.

Finger's owner identified
The owner of the finger still had not been found. But on May 13, 2005, police announced that they had identified the finger tip as belonging to an associate of Ayala's husband. The associate had lost his finger tip in an industrial accident at an asphalt company in December, 2004. Police had received the information from an undisclosed caller to Wendy's hot-line.

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