By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
Jack and Penny Laetch may end up telling a judge they deserve a break-but it won't be at McDonald's.
The elderly Scottsdale couple turned from McCustomers into McBlackmailers last month, police say, after scheming to extort money from a man who owns several of the fast-food joints.
The alleged shakedown occurred after 64-year-old Jack Laetch discovered his McDonald's receipt was inscribed with the words "Fuck You" instead of "Thank You."
Laetch threatened to go to the media about the embarrassing receipt, police say, unless franchise owner Ray Johnson forked over $1,000. Johnson informed Phoenix police, who organized a successful sting on the Laetches. Now the couple could be looking at five years in prison.
Here's how it happened, according to police reports:
In early May, a customer told Ray Johnson by telephone from Kansas about a crudely worded receipt he had collected at a McDonald's in northwest Phoenix. Johnson checked his computer and saw that, sure enough, one of his employees had been fooling around and rigged the cash register to print a receipt that read "Fuck You."
That's when Jack and Penny Laetch came into the picture, police say.
The couple went to the McDonald's at 1951 West Bell Road last May 11 and ordered two Big Macs, a Happy Meal, an order of French fries and soft drinks.
Jack Laetch pocketed the receipt and the couple chowed down. Jack Laetch apparently didn't notice the nasty message until later. According to Ray Johnson, Jack Laetch then called him with a proposition: Pay me $1,000 or I'll go to the press.
Johnson agreed to meet with Laetch, thinking at first, he later told police, that paying off the old-timer might be best. But Johnson thought better of it and called police. They told Johnson to go ahead and meet with the Laetches-while the cops would listen in and tape the conversation from a room next door.
The police transcript of the bugged May 15 meeting at Johnson's office on Black Canyon Highway started with Ray Johnson asking Jack Laetch what was troubling him.
"It's like waking up one day and realizing that there's no Santa Claus," Laetch replied. I go back to the day Ray Kroc opened the first one. We've been McDonald's people all our lives. Gosh, I just can't believe it. From my own personal feelings, I think it should be worth a thousand dollars to me."
Johnson asked what might happen if he didn't pay.
"I have other things I can do," Laetch said. "I could write to national magazines, the National Enquirer. ... You might be glad that I got ahold of this instead of somebody else."
"So I guess what you're saying to me," Johnson told Laetch, "is if I gave you a thousand dollars, that you would give me all of the copies back that you have?"
Jack Laetch hesitated. "Well, I don't know if I can make that decision right on the spot."
As the negotiating continued, Laetch tried another tack.
"I know this is gonna sound dumb," Laetch said. I haven't slept well. Honest to God."
"Would a thousand dollars give you a little more sleep?" Johnson asked.
"Give me a little more sleep," Laetch replied.
"A little more satisfaction," Penny Laetch chimed in.
Jack Laetch signed a "fault-free" disclaimer that read: "Having received consideration, I swear not to disclose this incident to anyone."
Seconds after Johnson handed the Laetches $1,001 in cash, two Phoenix police detectives walked in, introduced themselves and told the couple they were under arrest for blackmail.
The Laetches weren't jailed; they were told the case would be submitted to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for felony prosecution. (As of early this week, the paperwork on the case was completed but hadn't yet been filed.)
In the meantime, Johnson ordered his workers to take lie-detector tests. An employee fessed up to having fiddled with the store's cash-register computer; he was fired. The receipts resumed thanking people instead of swearing at them.
"What happened to us was stupid," says Bob Spatafore, Johnson's director of operations, who also happened to be present during the sting of the Laetches. "What those people did was stupid, too. And we won't be in a position where that can happen again."
Spatafore explains that he now keeps the cash-register computers under lock and key at Johnson's ten McDonald's restaurants in the Valley. ²The Laetches could not be reached for comment about the incident. But an explanation of sorts is contained in the police transcript of their alleged shakedown of Johnson.
Moments before the money changed hands, 66-year-old Penny Laetch told Johnson that her husband had wanted to contact "Montini," referring to Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini, or "do all kinds of things" before he called Johnson. Then she added, "But I told him, `Always go to McDonald's first.'"
A QUESTION OF CLASS WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS... v6-17-92