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Strip Search Scam: Hoax Phone Calls to Restaurants or Grocery Stores

The strip search scam was a series of incidents occurring for roughly a decade before an arrest was made in 2004. These incidents involved a man calling a restaurant or grocery store, claiming to be a police detective, and convincing managers to conduct strip searches of female employees or perform other unusual acts on behalf of the police. The calls were usually placed to fast-food restaurants in small rural towns.

Strip Search Scam  Hoax Phone Calls to Restaurants or Grocery Stores
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Over 70 such occurrences were reported in 30 U.S. states, until an incident in 2004 in Mt. Washington, Kentucky finally led to the arrest and charging of David Stewart, a 37-year-old employee of Corrections Corporation of America, a private-commercial firm contracted by the State of Florida to provide corrections officers at private detention facilities. On October 31, 2006, he was acquitted of all charges.

Incidents Before Mt. Washington Call

There were incidents in multiple states that followed the same pattern: a caller identifying himself as a police officer would contact a manager or floor supervisor on the pretense of soliciting the supervisor to assist the police in detaining a suspected criminal employee and conducting a search of the person. The caller would provide a physical description of the suspect which the supervisor would recognize. A vast majority of the calls were to fast-food restaurants but a few were made to chain grocery stores.

Some notable cases include:

  • Two calls reported in 1992: one in Devils Lake, North Dakota and another in Fallon, Nevada.
  • A McDonald's manager in Leitchfield, Kentucky was convinced on November 30, 2000 to undress before a customer when the caller persuaded her that the customer was a suspected sex offender and that her serving as bait would permit undercover officers to arrest him when he showed an interest in her.
  • A call to a McDonald's restaurant in Hinesville, Georgia in February, 2003, in which a female manager, who thought she was speaking with a police officer in the presence of the director of operations for the franchisee GWD Management Corporation, took a 19-year-old female employee into the women's bathroom and strip searched her, and brought in a 55 year old male employee to perform a body cavity search to uncover hidden drugs. McDonald's and franchisee GWD Management Corporation were taken to court over the incident. In 2005 U.S. District Judge John F. Nangle granted summary judgment to McDonald's, and denied in part summary judgment to GWD Management Corporation. In 2006, The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.
  • On January 26, 2003, an Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar assistant manager victimized a waitress after receiving a collect call from someone who purported to be a regional manager.
  • On June 3, 2003, a Taco Bell manager in Juneau, Alaska stripped a 14 year old female customer and forced her to perform lewd acts, at the request of a caller who claimed he was working with the company to investigate drug abuse.
  • In July, 2003, a 36-year-old Winn-Dixie grocery store manager in Panama City, Florida received a call instructing him to bring a 19 year old female cashier, who matched a physical description provided by the caller, into the office for a strip search. The cashier was forced to disrobe and pose in various positions as part of the search. The incident was ended when another manager entered the office to retrieve a set of keys.
  • In March, 2004, a 17-year-old female customer at a Taco Bell in Fountain Hills, Arizona near Phoenix was strip-searched by a manager receiving a call from a man claiming to be a police officer.

Lawsuits

Louise Ogborn sued McDonald's for $200 million for failing to protect her during her ordeal. Her grounds for the suit were:

  • that McDonald's corporate headquarters were aware of the danger of a possible hoax because they had defended themselves against lawsuits over similar incidents at its restaurants in four other states
  • that McDonald's had been subjected to similar hoaxes at least two years before the Mount Washington incident and they had not taken appropriate action as directed by their own chief of security and as outlined in his memo to McDonald's upper management

Donna Summers also sued McDonald's, asking for $50 million, for failing to warn her about the previous hoaxes.

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Strip Search Scam: Hoax Phone Calls to Restaurants or Grocery Stores