Woman Arrested in Wendy's finger case...
Woman Arrested in Wendy's Chili Finger Case
Fri Apr 22, 7:36 PM ET
By Michael Kahn
SAN JOSE, Calif. (Reuters) - A woman who claimed she found a severed finger in a bowl of Wendy's chili has been arrested after California police determined she carried out the hoax before threatening to sue the restaurant chain.
Reuters Photo Slideshow: Diner Claims Finger Found In Chili
Police Arrest Woman Who Reported Finger in Chili
The arrest capped a month-long drama that crimped sales at the No. 3 U.S. burger chain.
Anna Ayala, 39, was charged with one count of attempted grand theft related to Wendy's and a count of grand theft for a separate case in which police said she bilked a woman of her life savings. She could face about six years in prison if convicted.
Citing the continuing investigation, police declined to say where the severed finger came from and said a $100,000 reward for information was still on offer.
The saga began when Ayala said she bit down on the finger after spooning up a mouthful of chili at a Wendy's restaurant in San Jose, California, on March 22.
Her claim cost Wendy's restaurants about $2.5 million in lost business as customers stayed away from the burger chain's restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, police said.
Wendy's spokesman Bob Bertini declined to attach a dollar figure to the lost sales, saying the company would provide more details in its quarterly earnings announcement next week.
The investigation into the severed finger prompted the second criminal charge against Ayala, who authorities said sold a mobile home that was not hers to a woman who spoke only Spanish. The victim in that case lost her life savings of $11,000, police said.
Wendy's International Inc. welcomed the arrest and said it hoped customers would return. The company's 50 Bay Area restaurants are giving out free Frosties this weekend in a bid to restore consumer faith in its brand.
"We feel we have been victimized," said Wendy's spokesman Denny Lynch. "Now that an arrest has been made we feel vindicated."
Wendy's initially offered a $50,000 reward for information about the origin of the finger but doubled the amount last week to $100,000.
Images of the finger tip released by the Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health showed it in two pieces. Health officials said it was probably a woman's finger because it had part of a long, manicured nail.
Suspicion surrounding Ayala arose earlier this month after San Jose police served a search warrant related to the case in a private home in Las Vegas, where she lives.
Publicity surrounding Ayala's history of suing large corporations also raised suspicion. According to media reports, she has pursued legal claims against restaurant chain El Pollo Loco, General Motors and Goodyear Tire.
Last week Ayala dropped her claim against Wendy's.
Ayala was arrested on Thursday night at her home in Las Vegas and was being held at the Clark County Detention Center there, police said. She will eventually be moved to San Jose.
Wendy's shares rose 79 cents, or nearly 2 percent, to close at $41.54 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Additional reporting by Nicholas Groom in Los Angeles and Brad Dorfman in Chicago)
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