Early Wednesday morning, three women from two tony towns on the Connecticut shoreline received visitations at their homes by Federal Marshals. The women were handcuffed and led off for an appearance before a New Haven magistrate in answer to indictments handed down on Tuesday by a Grand Jury following months of investigation. Each woman had been charged with multiple counts of defrauding the Internal Revenue Service, filing false tax returns and wire fraud.
Three wealthy matrons, including Donna Bello, wife of a prominent New Haven business man and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Joel Schiavone, Jill Platt also of Guilford, and Bettejane Hopkins of the Ivoryton section of Essex were alleged to be the organizing troika of
'The Gifting Table,' a pyramid scheme directed at local women of independent means.
The basic idea of any pyramid scheme is to keep adding recruits to the bottom of the pyramid. In the case of The Gifting Table, eight new participants would bring five thousand dollars, generally in cash to put into the pot. These eight women at the bottom of the table, were known as 'The Appetizers,' a play on the table theme. Each round of The Gifting Table, the women involved enlisted additional recruits: relatives, friends, colleagues, by exclusive invitation only, who provided an influx of cash and thus elevated the previous participants to the 'Soup and Salad' level, then on the 'Entree' level and finally to the 'Dessert Level.' The lucky woman at the top of the pyramid carried off the lioness' share of the spoils.
Each successful round of The Gifting Table was estimated to realize 40 thousand dollars of tax-free cash ( gifts ) for the Dessert member. Many of the Gifting Table participants are said to have profited by numerous rounds. It is alleged that the widespread fraud is in excess of one million dollars and a total of five million dollars has exchanged hands.
Federal Prosecutors constructed the case based on potentially damaging emails exchanged between Bello, Platt, and Hopkins over three years which reflected their avarice for the money ( the gifts ) and their joy at finding new recruits.
The premise that the affluent women involved were merely exchanging tax free gifts to promote their personal empowerment is on its face an interesting notion... it's the fraud and income tax evasion bits that may prove to be the sticky wickets.