Sunday, April 08, 2001

Prosecutor: Pyramid cash untraceable

The Associated Press

        NEWARK, Ohio — A county prosecutor has decided against trying to recover money from people who allegedly started a pyramid scheme.

        “It's impossible to tell who won what,” Licking County Prosecutor Robert Becker said after a yearlong investigation.

        Authorities said about 14,000 people might have participated and as much as $5 million could have changed hands.

        Those who allegedly launched the pyramid appeared in court last week on charges that they violated the state's pyramid law.

        They are Howard Goodin, 41; John Goodin, 44; George Layton, 39; Jason Weiser, 27; and David Mann, 41, all from Newark, and Richard Layton, 51, of Thornville.

        A seventh person — Jeri-Lynn Trimmer, 54, of Brentwood, Tenn. — is to appear in court Monday.

        Mr. Becker said instead of asking for repayment, he will turn over the names of the seven to tax officials.

        He said they were charged, but not indicted, and were likely to be enrolled in the county's diversion program if they plead guilty. That involves a year of counseling, classes and other activities for first-time offenders.

        Mr. Becker made more than two dozen police and firefighters and two members of his own staff who participated in the scheme repay money they won.

        Authorities said last year that some people involved might have won as much as $100,000.

        The pyramid started when one person sent a letter to two others asking them to send between $500 and $2,000 to the sender. Those two people added their names to the letter and each sent a copy to two more people. Those four then sent money that was passed up the top.

        The pyramid continued until 16 people were involved. Then it would split, creating two pyramids.

        Participants are told that the name of each person who participates eventually rises to the top of the list to receive money. By then, such scams usually collapse.

        A get-rich-quick scheme aimed at women could be the next pyramid scam to hit Ohio, said Stephanie Beougher, a spokeswoman for Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery.

        She said the scam, reported in Texas, Illinois and other states, is promoted as a way for women to empower themselves.

        “If you give money for this program you are "gifting' it to another woman,” Ms. Beougher said. “In turn, other women that you recruit will gift back to you.”


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