Woman fined in pyramid scheme
By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser staff writer
A Big Island woman has been fined $10,000 for running illegal pyramid investment schemes known as "women's gifting circles.''
Marlene Vintero of Kea'au has until Monday to appeal the order issued last month by Ryan Ushijima, the commissioner of securities for the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
An attorney for the department had sought a $90,000 fine, but a hearings officer recommended the lesser amount and Ushijima agreed.
According to the hearings officer, Sheryl Nagata, Vintero committed securities fraud by failing to register four gifting circles. But she wasn't the primary organizer and didn't profit from the venture.
Contacted yesterday, Vintero would not discuss the matter because her attorney was out of town.
In July 2001, the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs accused Vintero of operating four gifting circles and cheating at least 20 women out of thousands of dollars. The state said Vintero asked prospective members to invest up to $5,000 with the promise of receiving up to $40,000 in return.
Eighteen women testified at an administrative hearing about their participation in the gifting circles. Three of them said they gave Vintero money at Vintero's Hilo business, M&M Imports.
In her defense, Vintero testified that she was just another participant.
Nagata's findings said Vintero recruited at least 18 women to join the clubs and collected $49,250. Vintero eventually received $40,000 herself but ended up giving the money to others so they could join, according to Nagata.
Reach Timothy Hurley at (808) 244-4880, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.