Three Connecticut women have been charged with operating what the U.S. Attorney's office says is a pyramid scheme known as "Gifting Tables."
Donna Bello, 55, of Guilford, Jill Platt, 64 of Guildford, and Bettejane Hopkins, 66, of Essex, were arrested on Wednesday after an 18-count federal indictment charged them with conspiracy, and tax and wire fraud.
“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 David B. 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.”
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,'" according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Connecticut office.
The "Appetizers" paid $5,000 to the "Dessert" to join the group, fraudulently calling it a gift, the news release said. The new participants would then press others to join as they progressed toward the "Dessert" position.
From about 2008 to 2011, Bello, Platt and Hopkins allegedly "oversaw and profited from this Gifting Tables pryamid scheme," the release said. They are also charged with defrauding the Internal Revenue Service by mispresenting that the money could be considered a tax-free gift.
Emails allegedly sent by Bello, Platt and Hopkins include one from Platt that said: "It's sort of a joke that I refer to our freezer as the ATM."
The three women appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Martinez in Hartford on Wednesday and pleaded not guilty.