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Man Gets 30 Months in Rat Tail Scam

April 20, 1998

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (AP) _ A New Jersey scientist has been sentenced to 30 months in jail for planting a fried rat’s tail in a McDonald’s ``Happy Meal.″

Prosecutors said Michael Zanakis, 44, had hoped to extort $5 million from the fast-food chain. He was sentenced in federal court Thursday on a December conviction for mail fraud, wire fraud and extortion.

Zanakis, of Harding, N.J., took a rat’s tail from the medical research laboratory where he worked, had it fried and then placed it in a package of french fries he bought for his son at a McDonald’s in Port Jefferson Station on Jan. 15, 1996, prosecutors charged.

``He planted the tail and thought he would get away with it,″ said Assistant U.S. Attorney Leonard Lato. ``The next day he was on the phone with McDonald’s. We had him on tape demanding money.″

Zanakis claimed his 2-year-old son had bitten into and swallowed part of the tail and threatened to go to the news media with his allegations.

Zanakis was also convicted of planting bits of grease in a can of Coca-Cola Classic and then taking $4,600 from the Coca-Cola Co. and the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New York to keep quiet about it.

His lawyer, Jeh Johnson, said Zanakis was disappointed by the sentence and planned to appeal.

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