Anna Dalia Ayala (born December 22, 1965) is an American criminal, who became notorious for filing a fraudulent tort lawsuit against a Wendy's restaurant in San Jose, California, which Wendy's claims inflicted more than 2.5 million in lost revenue for the corporation. Ayala pled guilty to a felony charge of attempted grand larceny in September 2005, and was sentenced to nine years in prison on January 18, 2006.
History of lawsuits
In 1998, Ayala brought a lawsuit against San Jose-based La Oferta Review Newspaper Inc., for sexual harassment. The case was later dropped.
In 2000, she lost a suit against a San Jose car dealership, General Motors Corp., and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, claiming that a wheel fell off her car. The suit was dismissed "with prejudice" (meaning it cannot be refiled) after she fired her attorney and failed to show up in court or submit paperwork.
In 2004, Ayala claimed she had won a suit against fast-food restaurant chain El Pollo Loco in which she was awarded 30,000 in damages for medical expenses after her daughter Genesis contracted salmonella poisoning from eating at one of their Las Vegas-area restaurants. In mid-April 2004, El Pollo Loco spokeswoman Julie Weeks disputed this, saying that the company reviewed her claim and paid her nothing.
On March 22, 2005, Ayala alleged that she had found an amputated human finger in her chili and sued Wendy's, a fast-food restaurant chain. After an investigation by the Santa Clara County medical examiner's office and San Jose Police Department, it was determined the finger did not come from a Wendy's employee, or from any employee at the facilities that provided ingredients in the chili. Though early reports suggested that the finger was "fully cooked," the Santa Clara County coroner's office initially concluded that the finger "was not consistent with an object that had been cooked in chili at 170 degrees for three hours."
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department investigated the woman's home in Las Vegas, Nevada, in relation to the case, but what, if anything, was found was not immediately disclosed. Rumors ran rampant that Ayala had a dead aunt who might be related to the case, although she denied anyone recently passed on. Ayala claimed the police treated her and her family "like terrorists," acting against her violently, but neighbors downplayed the event. Later, it was also discovered the woman had filed numerous lawsuits against various retail establishments in recent years (see section above), adding another level of mystery to the case.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department arrested Ms. Ayala on April 21, 2005, taking her to the Clark County Detention Center. Ayala was charged with felony attempted grand larceny as well as grand theft. The grand theft charge is allegedly in connection with the fraudulent sale of a San Jose mobile home that Ayala did not own between September 2002 and November 2003; in reality it was owned by her live-in boyfriend, according to a statement filed by San Jose police Detective Albert Morales. The attempted grand larceny charge is connected to the Wendy's chili finger case; a penalty enhancement was issued for inflicting more than $2.5 million in losses on Wendy's as a result of plummeting sales.
Prosecutors portrayed Ayala as a scam artist with a penchant for filing lawsuits. Tests indicate that the finger had not been cooked in the chili, according to court records. They did not indicate where they thought the finger came from.
At a press conference held in San Jose, California on April 22, 2005, local Wendy's franchise holder Joseph Desmond urged people to "please come back to Wendy's because we do serve wonderful hamburgers, shakes and everything else." Wendy's announced it would offer free shakes with any purchase to all Bay Area customers that weekend as a show of goodwill and commitment in the wake of its investigation. On May 10, Wendy's expanded its offer of free Junior-sized Frosties nationwide from May 13 to May 15, with no purchase required.
On September 9, 2005, in San Jose, Ayala and her husband, Jaime Plascencia, plead guilty to conspiring to file a false claim and attempted grand theft.
The finger identified
On May 13, 2005, police announced that they had identified the fingertip as belonging to Brian Paul Rossiter, an associate of Ayala's husband. Rossiter had lost his fingertip in an industrial accident at an asphalt company in December 2004. Police received the information from an undisclosed caller to the Wendy's hotline.
On January 18, 2006, Ayala was sentenced to nine years in state prison. Her husband Jaime Plascencia, who supplied the finger, was sentenced to 12 years, 4 months in prison.
In her appeal to reduce her sentence, the Sixth District Court of Appeal agreed with her, saying Judge Edward Davila's decision to impose five years for "aggravating circumstances" was based on his own fact-finding and not by a jury's conclusions.