Police say finger found in chili cup was a hoax

Nevada woman charged in connection with case

April 23, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SAN JOSE, Calif. - A woman who said she found a finger in her beef chili at a Wendy's restaurant has been charged with attempted larceny in what the police are calling a hoax against the fast-food chain.

But the San Jose Police Department stopped short of accusing the woman, Anna Ayala, 39, of planting the finger she said she found in her food last month, an incident that set off a consumer backlash against Wendy's in Northern California.

The police, in a news conference here yesterday, also declined to say where the finger came from. They said that the investigation was continuing but that it had clearly found that neither Wendy's nor its suppliers were responsible for the presence of the two pieces of finger that Ayala said she found.

Ayala was arrested late Thursday in Las Vegas, where she lives. The San Jose police said she was being held on $500,000 bail and that they hoped to extradite her to California, though they did not give a timetable for the extradition.

"The true victims are Wendy's owners and operators," said Rob Davis, the San Jose chief of police. He added of Ayala's account, "As a result of forensic evidence, we believe that what she said is not true."

Ayala could not be reached for comment. Karyn Sinunu, the assistant district attorney for Santa Clara County, which filed the charges, said as far as she knew, Ayala did not have a lawyer as of yesterday afternoon.

If she is convicted, Ayala faces six years and two months in prison and could owe up to $2.5 million to Wendy's, Sinunu said. That potential prison sentence includes a second larceny charge in an unrelated case in which Ayala is accused of bilking $11,000 for a sale of a mobile home she did not own. It was owned by her live-in boyfriend.

Ayala has been involved in other legal disputes as well. According to a police affidavit filed in the Wendy's case, Ayala has filed at least 13 civil actions in California and Nevada involving her or her children, at times settling cases for a cash payout before going to trial.

The Associated Press reported that Ayala said she had received a settlement last year from an El Pollo Loco restaurant in Las Vegas after contending that her daughter became ill there. An El Pollo Loco said no payment was made.

In the Wendy's case, Davis declined to elaborate on the results of forensics testing so far. But some new details from the investigation emerged yesterday, which shed light on the critical question of whether the finger had been cooked in the chili.

According to the criminal affidavit filed against Ayala, an initial test by the Santa Clara County coroner's office concluded the finger "was not consistent with an object that had been cooked in chili at 170 degrees for three hours," as is Wendy's policy. The finger was later sent to an outside forensic pathologist whose tests disproved some of the statements made by Ayala, the affidavit said.

Police also were never able to verify contentions by Ayala and two relatives that she vomited after spitting out the detached finger. The officers found no vomit, the affidavit said.

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