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Professor allegedly tried to extort $5 million for fried rat’s tail

March 28, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ A doctor who did research with laboratory rats has been arrested on charges of trying to extort $5 million from McDonald’s by claiming he had ingested a fried rat tail while eating french fries.

Dr. Michael F. Zanakis, a former associate professor at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine, also was accused of trying to extort money from the Coca-Cola Co. with a false claim that he had ingested ``small bits of greasy particles″ from a can of Coke.

Zanakis, 43, of Harding, N.J., was arrested Thursday in East Orange, N.J., on charges contained in a 23-count indictment that was unsealed in New York.

Prosecutors said Zanakis claimed he bought a Happy Meal on Jan. 15, 1996, for his son at a McDonald’s in Port Jefferson Station and found a rat tail in the french fries

He then demanded that he be paid $5 million or he would go public with the story and put his son in front of a camera holding the ``fried rat tail,″ federal prosecutors said.

Zanakis put the rat tail in the fries, the indictment said.

Prosecutors also said he falsely claimed he suffered nausea and gastritis from the grease in the soda, had to cancel patient evaluations and lost revenues because of the illness.

He eventually extorted $4,600 from Coca-Cola and a bottling company by threatening to take his story to the media, prosecutors said. The indictment charges that Zanakis put the grease in the can.

If convicted, Zanakis faces a maximum of five years in prison on each of 21 fraud counts and 20 years on each of two extortion counts. Each count also carries a maximum fine of $250,000.

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