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Feds Charge Three In Shoreline Pyramid Scheme Known As "Gifting Tables"

Jill Platt of Guilford, Donna Bellow of Guilford and Bettejane Hopkins of Essex are arrested on federal crime charges.

 

David B. Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and William P. Offord, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation in New England, announced that Donna Bello, 55, of Guilford, Jill Platt, 64, of Guilford, and Bettejane Hopkins, 66, of Essex, were arrested today on federal criminal charges related to their alleged involvement in a pyramid scheme known as “Gifting Tables.”  Yesterday, a federal grand jury sitting in New Haven returned an 18-count indictment charging the defendants with conspiracy, tax and wire fraud offenses.

“The indictment alleges that the three defendants ran a pyramid scheme designed to enrich themselves at the expense of other participants,” said U.S. Attorney Fein.  “In addition, the indictment alleges that the defendants tried to use the pretext of ‘Gifting Tables’ as a way to avoid paying taxes on the substantial illegal proceeds of their scheme.  The investigation into this scheme and others like it in Connecticut is ongoing and will remain an important priority for my office and IRS Criminal Investigation.”

“These arrests should send a strong message to all who threaten the financial health of our communities,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Offord.

“Schemes that seem too good to be true should be a signal to individuals to stay clear.  Criminal Investigation is committed to investigating schemes like these in an effort to protect the financial well being of the American public and to ensure that everyone pays their fair share of taxes.”

According to the indictment, a Gifting Table is configured as a four-level pyramid, with eight participants assigned to the bottom row, four participants assigned to the third row, two participants assigned to the second row, and one participant assigned to the top row.  The top row participant is referred to as the “Dessert,” the two participants on the second row as “Entrees,” the four participants on the third row as “Soup and Salads,” and the eight participants on the bottom row as “Appetizers.”

To join a Gifting Table, new participants were required to pay $5,000, typically cash, to the Dessert, that is, the participant occupying the top position on the pyramid.

The $5,000 payment, which was fraudulently characterized as a gift, secured the new participant a position as an Appetizer on the bottom row.  Participants moved from the bottom row of the pyramid and progressed through a Gifting Table by recruiting additional people to join.

When eight new participants joined a Gifting Table, each having made a $5,000 “gift” to the person occupying the Dessert position at the top of the pyramid, the Dessert left the Gifting Table and kept the $40,000 paid by the eight new participants. 

That particular Gifting Table was then split, with the two participants occupying the Entree position on the second row moving to the top position (Dessert) of two new pyramids.  The other incumbent members of the Gifting Table moved up a row on one of the two newly-formed pyramids, and the search for 16 new participants began.  The success of the Gifting Tables depended on new participants joining and making the $5,000 “gift.”

The indictment alleges that from approximately 2008 to 2011, Bello, Platt and Hopkins 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.

The indictment further alleges that in May 2010, the defendants attempted to intimidate a participant who had questioned the legality of the Gifting Table scheme.

It is further alleged that Bello, Platt and Hopkins conspired to defraud the Internal Revenue Service by misrepresenting to recruits and participants that monies given and received during the scheme were legally considered tax-free “gifts” under the IRS code and that lawyers and accountants had approved Gifting Tables as legal ventures that generated tax-free proceeds.  The indictment further alleges that Bello, Platt and Hopkins, filed false tax returns that failed to report income generated from the scheme.

The indictment details numerous communications sent by Bello, Platt and Hopkins in furtherance of, or related to, the scheme, including an email allegedly sent by Platt in March 2009 that told a participant: “It’s sort of a joke that I refer to our freezer as the ATM.”  Later in March 2009, Bello allegedly complained to Hopkins and another individual 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.”

In June 2009, Bello allegedly 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?”

In October 2009, Hopkins allegedly emailed Platt and Bello advising that “we need to keep silent and under the radar.”         Later in October 2009, Bello allegedly emailed a participant and indicated “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 indictment charges Bello, Platt and Hopkins with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and multiple counts of wire fraud.  Each of these charges carries a maximum term of imprisonment of twenty years.  The charge of conspiracy to defraud the IRS carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years.  The charge of filing false tax returns carries a maximum term of imprisonment of three years.

Bello, Platt and Hopkins appeared this afternoon before United States Maigstrate Judge Donna F. Martinez in Hartford and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

U.S. Attorney Fein stressed that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. Charges are only allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.         This matter is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Douglas P. Morabito.

This case was brought in coordination with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which was established to wage an aggressive and coordinated effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources.  The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.

To report financial fraud crimes, and to learn more about the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, please visit www.stopfraud.gov.

john doe May 11, 2012 at 04:55 AM
Jon, By the way, It seems that one of the defendants was arrested a few months ago for assaulting a police officer. If this is true than lets add violence into the mix of things to consider. When you say these women pursued women in plain sight that is not totaly true. As time went on they became more brazen sure, That is a typical criminal pattern." The invisable crime" so called. That is not so unusual.Most of the women contend that it was all legal, Really? were there any town officals asked to join? Were ther any members of the clergy in their ranks? How about some police officers wives. No I doubt it. Ask yourself why. Because they were all aware of how to conduct this scam. If you think the lobster fest or the call girls put you hairs on end Just Wait! I cant really address all the woes of Madison,Most reasonable people would agree we have had our share. But as far as The Gifting Table is concerned the reason the Police got the three is because of all the chirping birds ran for cover to save their skins, and now try to settle back into society. The IRS & FBI make very few deals when it comes to tax evasion,wire fraud etc. And thay have a very strong case, With the help of all the secondary dupes who will turn states witness. This is a small intermission so stay tuned. On that note I think I will have some chilled Lobster.
john doe May 16, 2012 at 02:58 AM
Breaking news!!! It seems there are ten or more warrents sitting on a bench,Some of which I am sure will be served soon. Oh boy... The enie-mene-miney-moe rule does not apply here. No joking matter,real people with real lives. Like the old Men At Work song "Who can it be now" the other shoe remains suspended in mid air ready to drop any time now and expose yet another group of Grifters,ooh ooh I ment Gifters. The support for their fallen friends mounts as the facts unfold. guarded conversations rule the cocktail circuit, And the band plays on with the second verse about to begin. Sad but true alot of normal everyday people got hurt in all of this. Gosh only $5000.00 to join with a group of such prestigious women. Oh my... let me get a seat at the table please...please. Lets hope that all the plea bargining is kept within respectiful limits, And the price paid by the little chirping birds so they could join the table is somehow melded into the mixture of punishment called... "Just Deserts".
Donald Mei May 17, 2012 at 12:05 PM
I know several women from Essex who have been invited to the "tables". The funny thing is that all of these women are well off. Usually because of their husbands. I suspect these were the actions of "bored housewives", who thought "better this than an affair".
john doe May 22, 2012 at 02:52 AM
Bored maybe? Hmmmm. One thing is certain, At the least they are all guilty of one common thing., Bad judgment. Question, Does that in itself make them hardened thugs. the answer is "Okay Maybe". They are no spring chickens 50 -60 something and who knows what else they have done that has gone un-seen? As responsible individuals at some time or another have stepped too close if not over the line. And at that point we all take into account the moral issue as well as the social issue at stake before crossing that line or not. I feel you assume too much. Appearances are deceiving when it comes to real wealth and the appearance of, Or the ability to create the look of "Big Bucks". These gals felt the pinch,The pinch of not enough and as we know tough times. The inability to remain in the established groups . lets face it money is tight, Even for the "all-so" group. Should we let them go because they so called victims " please not again" How about this. Return the money to the people who lost out. $ 1 million or so, And no money paid to the IRS for some sort of hoky fines. And maybe 200 to 300 hours of community service helping to educate the local community on how to believe in the SPIRIT of the law not just the LETTER of the law along with a Mock Public Hanging on
john doe June 06, 2012 at 04:26 AM
I see from my kitchen window that the several police cars have come to the right address in regards to this Gifting Table mess. Let's see State,Local and unmarked cars Hmmm? I would suspect that the so called "chirping birds" are getting in full voice and ready to point fingers and name names in an effort to save their own skins. Local attorneys will be reporting a up-tick in business. One problem, Let's see if they are so eager to testify once inside the court room and in front of all the media. The thing that could save them is if the three accused defendants pled guilty to a lessor charge. In that event the chirping birds would not be required to testify at a public trial. Let's all hope they don't call in Monte Hall, "Lets make a deal" guy to put the finish on this saga. I believe an ounce of public exposure and truth is worth a pound of social cure. Ladies, Keep those perfectly manacured fingers crossed. You might be enjoying your cocktails on the porch after all. Excuse me may I have a martini dry with an olive and hold the "embarasment" Please.

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