United States Attorney
District of Connecticut
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Federal Jury Finds Two Guilford Women Guilty of Overseeing “Gifting Tables” Pyramid Scheme
Yesterday, a federal jury in Hartford has found Donna Bello, 56, and Jill Platt, 65, both of Guilford, Conn., guilty of conspiracy, tax and wire fraud offenses related to their involvement in a pyramid scheme known as “Gifting Tables,” announced U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut David B. Fein, and Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) in New England William P. Offord. The trial before Chief U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson began on January 24 and the jury returned its verdict this afternoon after deliberating for approximately two hours.
“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. “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.”
“I’m pleased to see that the jury saw that the ultimate purpose was the enrichment of the defendants,” stated IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Offord. “IRS Criminal Investigation remains 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 evidence presented during the trial, 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.”
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.
Bello and Platt also 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. In addition, Bello and Platt filed false tax returns that failed to report income generated from the scheme.
Evidence at trial included several emails, including an email 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 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 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?”
Later in October 2009, Bello 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 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. Finally, Bello was 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.
“During the trial, the jury heard evidence that other Gifting Tables continue to operate in Connecticut,” stated U.S. Attorney Fein. “The jury’s verdict today is fair notice to anyone participating on Gifting Tables that any money received is taxable income and that they may be involved in an illegal pyramid scheme.”
Chief Judge Thompson has scheduled sentencing for May 15, 2013.
This matter is being investigated by the IRS–CI, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Douglas P. Morabito and Peter J. Jongbloed.
Today’s announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed more than 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,700 mortgage fraud defendants.
To report financial fraud crimes, and to learn more about the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, please visit www.stopfraud.gov.