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Wendy's trial ends with 9- and 12-year sentences

January 18, 2006
New York Times/AP

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A couple who planted a severed finger in a bowl of Wendy's chili in a scheme to extort money from the fast-food chain were, according to these stories, sentenced Wednesday to at least nine years in prison.

Anna Ayala, 40, who said she bit into the digit, was sentenced to nine years. Her husband, Jaime Plascencia, 44, who obtained the finger from a co-worker who lost it in a workplace accident, was sentenced to more than 12 years.

Superior Court Judge Edward Davila was quoted as saying, "Greed and avarice overtook this couple," adding that the pair had "lost their moral compass."

The two pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to file a false insurance claim and attempted grand theft with damages exceeding $2.5 million.

Although authorities suspected a hoax -- in part because the finger was not cooked -- word of the stomach-turning find quickly spread around the world. The Dublin, Ohio-based fast food chain claimed it lost $2.5 million in sales because of the bad publicity, and dozens of workers at the company's Northern California franchises were laid off.

Denny Lynch, Wendy's senior vice president, was quoted as asking the judge to send a message that ''consumer fraud is a serious crime that demands a severe penalty.''

In a tearful plea for leniency, Ayala apologized to the courtroom gallery and said the scheme was ''a moment of poor judgment.''

Earlier, she watched news footage of herself describing how she sat down March 22 with her family at the Wendy's in San Jose, put crackers in her chili and started eating until she chewed on something ''kind of hard, crunchy.'' She said she spit it out and realized it was a human finger.

''There's no words to describe what I felt. It's sick, it's disgusting,'' she said in a clip played before sentencing. ''Just knowing there was a human remain in my mouth is tearing me apart inside.''

Other interviews showed an increasingly agitated Ayala denying to reporters she put the finger in the chili. ''Where would I get a damn finger?'' she asked on camera.

Forensic tests later showed Ayala never chomped down on the finger.

The sentencing followed a 90-minute hearing in which several Wendy's employees testified, including the man who made the chili and the cashier who helped Ayala on the day she made the claim.

Hector Pineda, who made the chili and initially came under suspicion, was quoted as saying, "I felt so bad for the fear of what people would think of me. We are the ones that have suffered."

Cashier Jose Pacheco was cited as saying he bore the brunt of Ayala's tirade after complained about the chili, adding, "She asked me who I killed to get the finger."