Closing arguments finished for women accused in pyramid scheme - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Closing arguments finished for 2 women accused in pyramid scheme

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HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) -

Closing arguments were completed Tuesday in the federal trial for two women accused of running what the government calls a pyramid scheme.

"If I had to do it all over again, I'd do the same thing for these friendships," said Judy Petrello.

Virtually every row behind the defense was filled with women who say they were a part of the gifting table. They said it was as much about social networking as it was an opportunity to make money and maintain they did nothing wrong.

However, the federal government claims both ladies on trial knew they were engaging in a pyramid scheme and interfering with the IRS.

Donna Bello and Jill Platt have already pleaded not guilty to the charges that they knowingly hid profits from a fraudulent pyramid scheme to the federal government.

Supporters told Eyewitness News Bello and Platt ran a legitimate women's gifting table along Connecticut's coastline. 

"It was never represented at all to be illegal," said Shirley Lemcke.

The women said that they eat, drank and talked about "philanthropic things" with Bello and Platt.

According to a grand jury indictment, there were 70 women involved and $5 million were exchanged.

"I gifted knowing full well, I'd be getting nothing in return," Petrello said.

According to authorities, eight new club members each paid a $5,000 gift to the woman at the top of the pyramid for a $40,000 payout.

New members moved up the pyramid by recruiting additional women and getting them to pay in.

"I did hope since I retired and lost half my income eventually someday I'd be gifted," said Petrello, who admitted to making no money off the gifting table. "If it didn't happen, it was well worth the time and effort that I bonded with these women."

The women said they talked with attorneys who said they were doing nothing wrong. For them it was about the comradery.

"I would do it again 1,000 times and more," said one unidentified woman. "And that's how committed and what it means to me and changed my life as a person."

Jury deliberations are expected to begin Wednesday morning.

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