Jared’s child sex case piles on to Subway’s woes
New York — Subway benefited hugely from Jared Fogle’s weight loss story. Now the sandwich chain needs to figure out how to prevent him from overshadowing its future.
On Wednesday, Fogle agreed to plead guilty to allegations that he paid for sex acts with minors and received child pornography in a case that destroyed his career at the sandwich-shop chain and could send him to prison for more than a decade.
Prosecutors allege that Fogle knew the pornography had been secretly produced by the former director of his charitable foundation, which sought to raise awareness about childhood obesity and arranged for Fogle to visit schools and urge children to adopt healthy eating and exercise habits.
Authorities said Fogle offered to pay adult prostitutes a finder’s fee if they could connect him with minors for sex acts, including some as young as 14 or 15 years old.
“This is about using wealth, status and secrecy to illegally exploit children,” U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler said.
A tight-lipped Fogle sat in federal court with his hands clasped and quietly answered “no” when the judge asked whether he had any questions about his rights. He is expected to enter the formal plea at a later date to one count each of travelling to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor and distribution and receipt of child pornography.
Released with electronic monitoring as a condition, Fogle faces a maximum 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine at sentencing. Prosecutors and Fogle’s lawyer agreed to a sentence range of 5 to 12 years.
Fogle’s lawyer said his client will pay restitution to his victims as part of the plea, and seek psychiatric treatment. His wife, Katie Fogle, is seeking a divorce.
It’s not clear how customers will react to Fogle’s plans to plead guilty to allegations that he paid for sex acts with minors and received child pornography, since it doesn’t have anything to do with Subway’s food. But the association of the company’s name with crimes that evoke such universal disgust come at a rough juncture for Subway.
Subway is facing intense competition and concerns that it’s overgrown. The company’s founder and CEO is fighting cancer. And at a time when attitudes about the definition of healthy are changing, Subway is trying to convince people about the quality of its food by removing artificial ingredients from its menu.
“For a while, when you see a Subway ad, you’re going to think about that child pornography charge,” said Allen Adamson of the brand consulting firm Landor Associates.
Companies like having famous representatives because it’s a way to make people feel like that they could somehow be more like those individuals — which in the case of Fogle meant losing weight and being able to keep it off.
The charges against Fogle also are tough because he wasn’t just a one-time endorser; he is famous solely for dropping more than 200 pounds with his “Subway diet.”
Subway leaned on Fogle’s story for more than 15 years as it more than doubled its locations in the U.S. The pitchman appeared in Subway TV ads as recently as last month, on the day his home was raided by state and federal investigators, according to iSpot.tv, which measures national TV ads.
It was one of three Subway ads featuring Fogle up to that point in the year, out of a total of 40 different Subway ads, according to iSpot.tv.
Julie Carlton, a 28-year-old graduate student who was at a Subway in New York City Wednesday, said she doesn’t plan to stop going to the chain because she doesn’t think the company is to blame for Fogle’s actions.
She said she was much more upset with Chick-fil-A after the fried chicken chain’s president publicly reaffirmed his support of what he called the “biblical definition of the family unit” that did not include same-sex marriage. The move provoked an outcry from gay rights supporters.
“There’s a big difference between with what happed with Jared and what happened with Chick-fil-A,” said Carlton.
Still, the revelations about Fogle come at a bad time for Subway, which had already been struggling with sales. Subway is privately held and doesn’t publicly report its financial results. But average annual sales at U.S. Subway locations fell 3 percent last year, according to industry tracker Technomic.
The company is dealing with changing attitudes about food. Overextension might be part of the problem, too. Subway says it has about 27,000 locations in just the U.S., which is nearly twice as many locations as McDonald’s, the next biggest chain.
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