updated 7/20/2004 4:08:41 PM ET 2004-07-20T20:08:41

An appeals court has erased convictions for four men found guilty in a multimillion-dollar scheme to cash in on stolen winning tickets in McDonald's Corp. games such as "Monopoly" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found "a complete failure of proof" on the conspiracy charge the men faced and concluded they were convicted of a conspiracy that they were not charged with.

The decision means the men cannot be retried and restitution orders ranging up to $786,500 each are rescinded.

"Praise the Lord and the 11th Circuit," Curtis Fallgatter, attorney for George Chandler, said Tuesday. "Every one of them had been told some false story about these tickets."

Steve Cole, spokesman for the region's federal prosecutors, had no comment on Monday's reversal.

Prosecutors charged a scheme dealing in stolen tickets was led by Jerome Jacobson, security director for a company that ran the games for the fast-food chain. The Lawrenceville, Ga., man was sentenced to three years in prison and was not covered by the appeal.

U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. had expressed concern about the evidence against the defendants but refused to grant directed verdicts of acquittal after the jury convictions in August 2003.

Jerome Pearl of Miami was sentenced to a two-year prison term, but was free pending the appeal, Fallgatter said. Chandler of Walhalla, S.C., and John Henderson, 50, of Las Vegas received and served house arrest. Kevin Whitfield of Savannah, Ga., was placed on probation for three years.

Those men were accused of posing as winners or recruiting winners for games offering prizes of $1 million cash and sports cars from 1995 to 2001. Chandler claimed he was duped by his foster father with a story about a friend trying to hide his winnings during a divorce.

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