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Nevada couple given prison time in Wendy's finger case

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A couple who put a severed finger in a bowl of Wendy's chili in a scheme to extort money from the fast-food chain were sentenced yesterday to prison terms.

Anna Ayala, 40, who said she bit into the digit, was sentenced to nine years. Her husband, Jaime Plascencia, 44, who obtained the finger from a co-worker who lost it during a workplace accident, was sentenced to more than 12 years.

''Greed and avarice overtook this couple," said Superior Court Judge Edward Davila, adding that the pair had ''lost their moral compass."

The two pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to file a false insurance claim and attempted grand theft with damages exceeding $2.5 million.

In a tearful plea for leniency, Ayala apologized to the courtroom gallery and said the scheme was ''a moment of poor judgment."

Ayala had said she vomited March 22 after biting into the fingertip while dining with her family at a Wendy's restaurant in San Jose.

Forensic tests later indicated that Ayala never chomped down on the finger, but she described the incident to television news crews. ''There's no words to describe what I felt. It's sick. It's disgusting," she said in a clip played before sentencing. ''Just knowing there was a human remain in my mouth is tearing me apart inside."

Although authorities suspected a hoax, in part because the finger was not cooked, the news spread around the world. The Wendy's chain, based in Dublin, Ohio, said it lost $2.5 million in sales because of the negative media attention, and dozens of workers at the chain's Northern California franchises were laid off.

Denny Lynch, Wendy's senior vice president, asked the judge to send a message that ''consumer fraud is a serious crime that demands a severe penalty."

The sentencing followed a 90-minute hearing in which several Wendy's employees testified, including the man who made the chili and the cashier who helped Ayala on the day she made the allegation.

''I felt so bad for the fear of what people would think of me," said Hector Pineda, who made the chili and initially came under suspicion. ''We are the ones that have suffered."

A lengthy search for the finger's owner eventually led police to one of Plascencia's co-workers, who had lost a finger in an accident at the paving company where they worked, police said.

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