A press release from the United States Attorney District of Connecticut announced today that a federal jury in Hartford found Donna Bello, 56, and Jill Platt, 65, both of Guilford, "guilty of conspiracy, tax and wire fraud offenses related to their involvement in a pyramid scheme known as ' Gifting Tables,'" the press release stated. The verdict was reached Thursday afternoon after about a two hour deliberation.
“As the jury’s swift verdict of guilty on all counts makes clear, ‘Gifting Tables’ are pyramid schemes and illegal, plain and simple,” stated U.S. Attorney Fein in the press release. “These defendants enriched themselves while fraudulently misrepresenting material facts about the Gifting Tables and conspired to hide their income from the IRS. I commend the agents of IRS Criminal Investigation for their thorough investigation of this matter, which is ongoing.”
According to evidence presented in the trial, which began January 24, the Gifting Table is orgnized into a four-level pyramid, and to join the 'Table' new participants were required to pay $5,000 to the person occupying the top position in the pyramid, This payment, which was fradulently characterized as a gift, allowed the new participant to move into the bottom roaw in the pyramid. Participants would then move from the bottom row of the pyramid and progressed through a Gifting Table by recruiting additional people to join.
After eight new participants joined, the top tiered person would leave the gifting table and keep the $40,000 accrued from the new participants. Then, that 'gifting table was then split, and those who were occupying the second row moved to the top, and everyone below moved up one row. The search for 16 new partipants then began. Thus, the success of the pyramids rested on new participants joining and making a $5,000 'gift.'
The press release stated: "From approximately 2008 to 2011, Bello and Platt, oversaw and profited from this Gifting Tables pyramid scheme. The defendants recruited individuals to join the scheme, prepared and distributed materials to recruits that contained false representations, and misrepresented to recruits and participants that Gifting Tables was not a pyramid scheme. Also, in May 2010, the defendants attempted to intimidate a participant who had questioned the legality of the Gifting Table scheme."
According to the press release, Bello and Platt conspired to defraud the IRS by misrepresenting to recruits and participants that money exchanged under the scheme was considered a tax free 'gift' under an IRS code. They told recruits " that lawyers and accountants had approved Gifting Tables as legal ventures that generated tax-free proceed," the press release explained. Additionally, both women filed false tax returns that failed to report any income generated from the scheme.
Evidence presented at the trial included several emails, including an email Platt sent in March 2009 that told a participant “It’s sort of a joke that I refer to our freezer as the ATM.”
In an email to Bettejane Hopkins, an Essex woman who pleaded guilty to charges concerning her involvement in the scheme back in December 2012, and an another individual, Bello complained about two recruits, stating: “They have had enough parties. Its [sic] costing us a small fortune in their food and wine delights. No more parties until they commit with the cash.”
The release recounted two other emails: One in June 2009, when Bello sent an email that said “I am not a . . . saint . . . . I’m teaching you all how to make an extra 80 grand a year . . . . Isn’t that enough?” and one she sent to a participant in October 2009, saying “as women we like our own stash. Keep it in a safe. Keep it quiet because rather not have red flags raised. Hiring accountants and atterneys [sic] is costly.”
The jury found Bello and Platt guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years, one count of conspiracy to commit to defraud the IRS, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years, and 11 counts and four counts of wire fraud, respectively, charges that carry a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years, the release stated. Bello was also found guilty of two counts and Platt of one count, of filing a false tax return, a charge that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of three years.
Chief Judge Thompson has scheduled sentencing for the two Guilford women for May 15, 2013.
This matter is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Douglas P. Morabito and Peter J. Jongbloed.