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Two Guilford Women Sentenced in Pyramid Scheme

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(Matt Dwyer/WTIC Photo)

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By DAVE COLLINS,  Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Two women have been sentenced to prison for their roles in a pyramid scheme that authorities say involved millions of dollars and more than 1,000 other women.

Jill Platt apologized for her actions before she was sentenced to 4 1/2 years by U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson in Hartford on Tuesday afternoon. Her lawyer said he planned to appeal her convictions.

A co-defendant, Donna Bello, was sentenced Tuesday evening to six years in prison.

A jury convicted the two Guilford residents in February of wire fraud, conspiracy and tax crimes.

Federal prosecutor Douglas Morabito asked the judge to sentence both women to significant prison time, while defense lawyers called for leniency.

The scheme ran from 2008 to 2011 and involved women joining gifting table clubs for $5,000 with the promise of receiving $40,000, if they recruited eight new members who paid $5,000 apiece to join, authorities said. There were 50 or more victims who lost more than $2.5 million, prosecutors wrote in sentencing documents.

The victims lost money when they couldn’t recruit members to recoup their initial investment, authorities said.

Platt told Thompson that she used money she made from the scheme to pay for her health insurance, not for anything extravagant.

“To say I’m sorry to be here is an understatement,” Platt said. “My intention really was to help others who were in similar (financial) situations.”

Platt, who remained free Tuesday, was ordered to report to prison on Oct. 15. After the prison time, she will be on supervised release for three years. She was also ordered to help pay $32,000 in restitution to victims.

Authorities say Bello was the leader of the scheme and Platt was like a manager. A third defendant, Bettejane Hopkins, of Essex, pleaded guilty to a tax charge in December and is to be sentenced Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Platt and Bello often targeted women who had financial problems. Many participants took loans against their retirement accounts, cash advances on their credit cards, borrowed money from family and friends, used child support checks, used inheritance money and did not pay their bill so they could join the gifting tables, authorities said. Some even borrowed money from Bello and Platt, officials said.

Platt and Bello told participants the gifting tables were legal but also instructed them to not deposit their earnings in the bank, or deposit the money in small increments, to avoid raising red flags with the Internal Revenue Service, prosecutors said.

The scheme also became a problem for a state judge nominee earlier this year.

Branford lawyer Shelley Marcus represented some members of the gifting tables club and denied telling them the club was legal, contradicting statements made by witnesses at the trial of Platt and Bello.

Marcus testified at Platt and Bello’s trial. Other witnesses testified that Marcus and her father, former state Democratic Party Chairman Ed Marcus, told gifting table members that their activities were legal.

Shelley Marcus’ involvement troubled some state lawmakers, but she was confirmed as a Superior Court judge.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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