Anna Ayala (born 22 December 1965) is an American woman who brought a fraudulent tort lawsuit against a Wendy's restaurant in San Jose, California. Wendy's claims cost the chain more than US$21 million in lost revenue. This led to a felony charge of attempted grand larceny against her, to which Ayala pled guilty in September 2005. She was sentenced to nine years in prison on January 18, 2006, and served four years. In 2013, she received another prison sentence for an unrelated incident regarding filing a false police report and felony firearm possession.
On March 22, 2005, Ayala alleged that she had found a severed human finger in her chili and sued Wendy's, a fast-food restaurant chain. After an investigation by the Santa Clara County medical examiner's office and San Jose Police Department, it was determined the finger did not come from a Wendy's employee, or from any employee at the facilities that provided ingredients in the chili. Though early reports suggested that the finger was "fully cooked", the Santa Clara County coroner's office initially concluded that the finger "was not consistent with an object that had been cooked in chili at 170 degrees for three hours."
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department investigated Ayala's home in Las Vegas, Nevada, but did not disclose details on their investigation. Rumors spread that Ayala had a dead aunt who might be related to the case, although she denied anyone recently died. Ayala claimed the police treated her and her family "like terrorists", acting against her violently, but neighbors downplayed the event. It was later discovered that she had previously filed numerous lawsuits against various retail establishments.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department arrested Ayala on April 21, 2005, taking her to the Clark County Detention Center. Ayala was charged with felony, attempted grand larceny, and grand theft. The grand theft charge is allegedly in connection with the fraudulent sale of a San Jose mobile home that Ayala did not own between September 2002 and November 2003; in reality it was owned by her live-in boyfriend, according to a statement filed by San Jose police Detective Albert Morales. The attempted grand larceny charge is connected to the Wendy's chili finger case; a penalty enhancement was issued for inflicting more than $2.5 million in losses on Wendy's as a result of plummeting sales.
Prosecutors portrayed Ayala as a scam artist with a penchant for filing lawsuits. Tests indicate that the finger had not been cooked in the chili, according to court records. They did not indicate where they believed the finger came from.
At a press conference held in San Jose, California, on April 22, 2005, local Wendy's franchise holder Joseph Desmond urged people to "please come back to Wendy's because we do serve wonderful hamburgers, shakes and everything else." Wendy's announced it would offer free Frosty shakes with any purchase to all Bay Area customers that weekend as a show of goodwill and commitment in the wake of its investigation. On May 10, Wendy's expanded its offer of free Junior-sized Frosties nationwide from May 13 to 15, with no purchase required.
On May 13, 2005, police announced that they had identified the fingertip as belonging to Brian Paul Rossiter, an associate of Ayala's husband. Rossiter had lost his fingertip in an industrial accident at an asphalt company in December 2004, and sold the fingertip to Ayala to settle a debt. Police received the information from an undisclosed caller to the Wendy's hotline.
On September 9, 2005, in San Jose, Ayala and her husband, Jaime Plascencia, pled guilty to conspiring to file a false claim and attempted grand theft. Ayala was subsequently banned for life from all Wendy's locations.
On January 18, 2006, Ayala was sentenced to nine years in state prison. Her husband Jaime Plascencia, who supplied the finger, was sentenced to 12 years, 4 months in prison.
In her appeal to reduce her sentence, the Sixth District Court of Appeal agreed with her, saying Judge Edward Davila's decision to impose five years for "aggravating circumstances" was based on his own fact-finding and not by a jury's conclusions.
According to The New York Times, Ayala has a history of lawsuits, filing at least 13 different civil actions in California and Nevada which involved her or her children, some of which involved out-of-court cash settlements. In 1998, Ayala brought a lawsuit against San Jose-based La Oferta Review Newspaper for sexual harassment. The case was dropped.
In 2000, she lost a suit against a San Jose car dealership, General Motors Corp., and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, claiming that a wheel fell off her car. The suit was dismissed "with prejudice" (meaning it cannot be refiled) after she fired her attorney and failed to attend court or submit paperwork.
In 2004, Ayala claimed she had won a suit against fast-food restaurant chain El Pollo Loco in which she was awarded US$30,000 in damages for medical expenses after her daughter Genesis contracted salmonella poisoning from eating at one of their Las Vegas-area restaurants. In mid-April 2004, El Pollo Loco spokeswoman Julie Weeks disputed this, saying that the company reviewed her claim and paid her nothing.
In 2013, Ayala made international headlines again after being sentenced to two years in prison for being an accessory to a felony, filing a false police report and being a felon in possession of a firearm. In October the previous year, her son, Guadalupe Reyes, accidentally shot himself in the ankle. Reyes was not allowed to have the gun because he was on parole. Ayala filed a false police report, telling officers that her son had been shot in the ankle by two men. According to police, Guadalupe Reyes eventually cracked during questioning and admitted that he shot himself, leading to the arrests of Ayala and Reyes.
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- Finger-in-the-chili fraud may get sentence reduced September 21, 2007
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- Kaplan, Tracey (June 5, 2013). "San Jose 'chili-finger lady' to get two years for new hoax". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved April 3, 2015.