News Column

eMail Lies at the Heart of Connecticut White-collar Fraud Trial

Feb 7, 201300PM

Denise Buffa

The Branford town clerk testified Tuesday that she didn't remember writing an email stating that Superior Court judge nominee Shelley Marcus had an interest in joining a "gifting table," a club that federal prosecutors say was a pyramid-type financial conspiracy run by two women facing fraud charges.

Marianne Kelly first testified that she never saw the email that had been introduced as evidence in the trial of Jill Platt, 65, and Donna Bello, 56, both of Guilford, who are charged with wire fraud and filing false tax returns.

"It's not even my style of writing," she testified under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter S. Jongbloed.

Lawyer Norman Pattis, who represents Bello, then asked Kelly whether she was denying that she wrote the email.

"I don't remember writing it," she said.

Kelly testified that she was a member of the gifting tables until she saw media reports that then state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was investigating their legality. She said she stayed long enough to get back her initial $5,000 investment and then dropped out.

Kelly said she believed the tables were legal, calling the experience "incredible... just amazing."

She described Platt as "one of the nicest people I've ever met in my life."

Kelly also denied that she received legal advice from Shelley Marcus and Edward Marcus or that she ever met with them about the gifting tables.

Earlier Tuesday, Edward Marcus, Shelley's father and a former state Democratic Party chairman, testified that his law firm advised the defendants on how to find a resolution to a state civil investigation, not on possible federal criminal issues.

Edward Marcus also called the idea that his daughter was interested in joining a table "absolutely ludicrous."

The government contends Platt and Bello failed to report profits from an illegal scheme in which members paid $5,000 to join with the chance to make $40,000 by recruiting new members.

Marcus said he told the New Haven Register in March 2010 that he thought the tables were legal, but that his opinion changed six months later.

Shelley Marcus testified Monday, denying she had an interest in joining and defending the legal advice she provided to two defendants amid charges that it was inadequate.

Shelley Marcus testified she never advised the defendants to stop their participation, nor did she edit the gifting-tables guidelines as previous witnesses had suggested.

She is one of 15 lawyers nominated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for state judgeships. The Marcus law firm was retained by Platt and Bello, who waived attorney-client privilege to enable Shelley and Edward Marcus to testify.

Also Tuesday, attorney and certified public accountant F. William O'Connor of Avon testified that he instructed four gifting tables members -- not including Bello or Platt -- that he believed profits from the tables was taxable.

Under cross-examination from Bello's lawyer, Norman Pattis, O'Connor testified he knew of no other criminal case with the exact facts presented in this case.

"This is untested terrain" being tested at the expense of Bello and Platt," Pattis told O'Connor. "Correct," the lawyer testified.

The indictment alleges that the defendants tried to use the pretext of gifting tables as a way to avoid paying taxes on their proceeds.

Each wire fraud charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years. A conviction on a charge of filing a false tax return is punishable by a maximum of three years.

A third defendant, Bettejane Hopkins, 67, of Essex, has pleaded guilty.

According to a grand jury indictment, more than 70 women made it to the top levels of the club, most of them more than once, and more than 20 of them six times or more. More than $5 million changed hands.

In October, current Attorney General George Jepsen disclosed that five former participants in the gifting scheme -- which he characterized as an illegal pyramid scheme -- agreed to forfeit $202,500 to the state. Edward Marcus represented some of those named at the time that the agreement was announced, Jepsen's office has said.

Edward Marcus took the stand Monday afternoon, recalling that Platt tried to explain a gifting table.

"We didn't have a clue as to what the gifts table consisted of," he said. "We indicated to her that there could potentially be some issues, but we didn't really know until looking at the statutes."

Platt said attorneys and accountants had said that the gifting tables were legal, but never identified any of those professionals.

He said he explained to Platt that the case could be referred to the state's attorney's office, which could lodge criminal complaints.

"We didn't know that there would be a referral," he said.

He said they left it up to Platt, who had been involved in the gifting tables for at least a year, to decide whether to keep participating.



Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2013 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)


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