Police find hand that lost Wendy's finger
16 May 2005
SAN JOSE: The finger a Nevada woman claimed she bit into while eating fast-food chilli in March came from a male acquaintance of her husband who lost it in an industrial accident, police say.
Police arrested Anna Ayala of Las Vegas last month on charges her false claim had cost restaurant chain Wendy's International millions of dollars in lost sales, but the origin of the floating human fingertip at the centre of the case had remained a mystery.
"The jig is up," San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis told a news conference. "The puzzle pieces are beginning to fall into place."
He said the acquaintance of Ayala's husband, who lives in Nevada and was cooperating with authorities, lost the finger in an industrial accident in December and provided it to Ayala's husband, Jaime Plascencia.
Ayala had hired a lawyer and filed a complaint about biting into the finger after spooning up a mouthful of chilli at a Wendy's in San Jose on March 22. She dropped the legal fight after police searched her home.
Davis declined to give further details on how the finger had been lost or how Ayala obtained it.
Wendy's, which put up a $100,000 reward for information on the origin of the finger, received a tip on its reward hotline, Davis said. Testing later confirmed that the finger had come from the unnamed associate of Ayala's husband.
Wendy's hopes to give the reward out but has not yet talked to the police to determine who should receive it, said Bob Bertini, a spokesman for the chain. The police did not identify the tipster at the press conference.
Ayala was arraigned in Santa Clara County court this week, but did not enter a plea.
Her initial shocking claim and the subsequent investigation linking her to what authorities said was a costly hoax have gained international attention and crimped sales at the No. 3 US burger chain.
Ayala was charged with attempted grand theft because publicity from the incident cut into Wendy's sales.
Last month Wendy's also said its first-quarter profit fell, partially because of the finger incident, which authorities estimate resulted in about $2.5 million in lost business.
Tom Mueller, president of Wendy's North American business, applauded the latest development in the saga.
"There can be no doubt that we are completely vindicated," Mueller said in a statement. "We strongly defended our brand and paid a severe price."
The judge in the Ayala case has set a May 18 hearing to review whether to lower her $500,000 bail.