Two Guilford Women Sentenced To Federal Prison For Overseeing Gifting Tables Pyramid Scheme
Deirdre M. Daly, Acting United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and Phil Hall, Acting Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation in New England, announced that two Guilford women who oversaw a pyramid scheme known as “Gifting Tables” were sentenced today in Hartford federal court. Chief United States District Judge Alvin W. Thompson sentenced DONNA BELLO to 72 months of imprisonment and three years of supervised release, and JILL PLATT to 54 months of imprisonment and three years of supervised release. BELLO also was ordered to pay a $15,000 fine.
“These significant sentences are appropriate for two individuals who profited from an illegal pyramid scheme and conspired to conceal their income from the IRS,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Daly. “The investigation into this and other Gifting Tables schemes in Connecticut is ongoing. Hopefully, this successful prosecution and the prison terms imposed today will serve as a strong deterrent and end this criminal activity.”
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 progressed from the bottom row of the pyramid by recruiting additional people to join the Gifting Table. 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, 57, and PLATT, 65, 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 affirmatively 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 telling recruits and participants that monies given and received during the scheme were 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 a co-conspirator and another individual about two recalcitrant 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: “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.”
On February 20, 2013, after a four-week trial, BELLO and PLATT were convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the IRS, multiple counts of wire fraud, and filing false tax returns.
BELLO and PLATT were ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $32,000 to several victims of the scheme.
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 S. Jongbloed.
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