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Published: Friday, 4/22/2005

<font face='verdana' size='1' color =#CC0000><b> * New * </b></font> Wendy's finger case branded a hoax; woman arrested

ASSOCIATED PRESS

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Police investigating how a human finger ended up in a woman s bowl of Wendy s chili declared the claim a hoax today and arrested her on charges of attempted grand larceny.

The arrest of Anna Ayala at her home outside Las Vegas was the latest twist in a case that has become a late-night punch line, taken a bite out of Wendy s sales and forced the fast-food chain to check its employees for missing fingers.

Ayala, 39, claimed she bit down on the well-manicured, 1 -inch finger in a mouthful of her steamy chili on March 22 in San Jose.

She had hired a lawyer and filed a claim against the Wendy s franchise owner, but dropped the lawsuit threat soon after suspicion fell on her.

When asked whether police considered Ayala s claim a hoax, David Keneller, captain of the San Jose police department s investigations bureau, said yes.

What we have found is that thus far our evidence suggests the truest victims in this case are indeed the Wendy s owner, operators and employees here in San Jose, Police Chief Rob Davis said.

At a news conference, police refused to say where the finger came from and exactly how the hoax was carried out.

But according to a person knowledgeable about the case who spoke on condition of anonymity, the attempted larceny charge stemmed from San Jose police interviews with people who said Ayala described putting a finger in the chili.

The source said the interviews were with at least two people who did not know each other and independently told similar stories.

The source added that investigators still did not know where the finger came from.

Ayala who has a history of bringing claims against big corporations has denied placing the finger in the chili.

We re thrilled that an arrest has been made, Tom Mueller, president and chief operating officer of Wendy s North America, said in a statement.

During the investigation, police and health officials failed to find any missing fingers among the workers in the restaurant s supply chain.

Wendy s hired private investigators, set up a hot line for tips and offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the finger s original owner.

The furor caused sales at Wendy s to drop, forcing layoffs and reduced hours in Northern California. Joseph Desmond, owner of the local Wendy s franchise, called the ordeal a nightmare.

Earlier Thursday, Ohio-based Wendy s announced it had ended its internal investigation, saying it could find no link between the finger and the restaurant chain.

Ayala has filed claims against several corporations, though it is unclear whether she received any money.

She said she got $30,000 from a Mexican food chain after her 13-year-old daughter got sick at one of the restaurant, but the chain denied it paid her anything.

Ayala also was arrested on a warrant alleging grand larceny a charge not related to the discovery of the fingertip. The police chief said the grand larceny allegation stemmed from a 2002 incident in which Ayala allegedly tried to sell a mobile home in San Jose that she did not own. The victim lost $11,000.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.



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