McSting lacked franchise
U.S. 41 drive-through officer catches
Fort Myers police recently manned a new battle station in their
fight against crime: the drive-through window at McDonald’s.
Dressed as a McDonald’s employee, an undercover officer worked
the drive-through window March 21 and April 25 and spotted enough
wrongdoing inside customers’ cars to warrant six arrests and 29
But someone involved — it wasn’t really clear who on Friday — may
end up with Egg McMuffin on his face because the owner of the
restaurant at 3645 Cleveland Ave. was never told and neither was the
fast-food chain’s corporate headquarters.
“We don’t get involved with those sort of things without
consulting counsel,” franchise owner Samir Homsi said. “Somebody
didn’t do the right steps. I’m upset, because I didn’t know anything
and they didn’t ask me.”
Homsi said he won’t let police use his restaurant for
“We don’t allow anybody even behind the counter,” Homsi said.
“Sometimes our assistants, they do crazy things and they think
because police are involved everything is kosher.”
According to arrest reports, Officer Glen Eppler did the
undercover work — peering into customers’ vehicles as they stopped
at the window where money is exchanged.
When Eppler saw lawbreakers — from people smoking marijuana in
plain view to those who hadn’t strapped their children into safety
seats — he would radio officers in patrol units McSTING: Restaurant
owner, corporate office were not aware of the police effort
down the street and have the cars pulled over.
According to police, the operation netted a “significant amount
of drugs” and two pistols.
Fort Myers Police Chief Hilton Daniels released a statement
Friday saying he was “pleased with the outcome of these
investigations” and wanted to thank McDonald’s for “helping us work
to fight crime.”
But that was before it was learned that neither Homsi nor
headquarters had been notified.
Fort Myers Police spokeswoman Kara Winton said the officers
involved were led to believe everyone knew what was going on.
She said police got the idea for the sting after the restaurant’s
employees and managers told police about seeing criminal activity in
the drive-through lane.
“They expressed frustration that they often saw people coming
through the drive-through actively smoking drugs or with drugs and
guns beside them, and they felt like they couldn’t do anything about
it,” Winton said. “It also bothered them when they saw kids not in
their seat belts.”
Winton said police discussed the operation with a female general
“The officer told her she needed to get a hold of upper
management and corporate before they proceeded and she called back
and said we had the green light and McDonald’s had approved it,”
The female, Winton said, left the restaurant before the operation
began and a male manager took over.
“They were so happy through all of this,” Winton said. “They were
completely supportive of this. ... We regret the appropriate sources
didn’t get notified, but we were under the impression that they
Two men who appeared to be managers told a reporter Friday the
sting was not the restaurant’s idea. Both refused to give their
Sheila Young, a communications worker at McDonald’s headquarters
in Oak Brook, Ill., declined to discuss the matter.
“This is not something we would be commenting on or should be
commenting on because it is a police matter,” Young said.
Question of legality
The News-Press learned of the operation through an anonymous
tipster, who said the sting seemed to be an invasion of customers’
Several local attorneys said they saw nothing illegal about the
sting, but didn’t like the sound of it.
“I don’t like what you’re describing,” said attorney Bruce
Tischler of Cape Coral, who has expertise in civil rights cases.
“You just feel like you’re being violated. You’re going in for your
Big Mac and you’ve got an officer looking into your car. It’s like
going to Disney World and finding out all the Mickey characters are
undercover narcotics officers.”
“People are going to say, ‘I came here for a Big Mac, not Big
Brother,’” said defense attorney Aaron O’Brien of Fort Myers, who
was a 2002 Libertarian Party candidate for state representative.
“The lawyer in me says they have a right to stand there and do that.
The Libertarian in me says hold it. People could just stop going
there if they’re going to be subjected to that kind of scrutiny.”
Chief Assistant State Attorney Randall B. McGruther said he could
see no trouble with the sting as far as prosecuting those who were
“I don’t see offhand any particular problem there,” McGruther
said. “They are in a place where they have a right to be and there’s
really no difference in them being in a McDonald’s work outfit
instead of civilian clothes. There is no expectation of privacy at a
McDonald’s drive-through window.”
Several people who have eaten at the franchise had mixed opinions
“I go there every morning for breakfast,” Christina Gonzalez, 24,
of Fort Myers said. “I think it’s ridiculous. McDonald’s, of all
places, an undercover McDonald’s worker.”
Justin Bala, 17, of Fort Myers said he eats there all the time,
“I totally agree with it,” Bala said. “I’ve got a lot of cops in
my family. I believe in the law. There is nothing wrong with looking
into people’s cars.”
Bekki Shanklin, 53, of Fort Myers works nearby and has eaten at
“There are a lot of people doing a lot of bad things, stupid
things that possibly harm others,” Shanklin said. “I think it’s
awfully Big Brotherish, but there’s an awful lot of things that need
to be Big Brothered upon.”
— The News-Press columnist Sam Cook contributed to this
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