Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Isle money scam
gets state’s attention

A Big Isle woman is ordered to
desist from her "Women's Circle"

By B.J. Reyes

Authorities are warning the public about a scam known as "Women's Circle," an apparent pyramid investment scheme that targets women and already has led to a cease-and-desist order against a Big Island resident.

The scam, which supposedly raises money for women in need, requires participants to pay as much as $5,000 -- and then recruit new members, said Honolulu police detective Letha DeCaires.

New members give cash "gifts" to the highest-ranking club member under the promise that by recruiting more members they will rise in rank and become eligible to receive money, DeCaires said.

"The problem with pyramid schemes is that at some point they're going to fold," DeCaires said. "The people that come into it at the end are going to receive nothing back."

Inquiries into the Women's Circle scam have led authorities to people on the mainland and in Canada, but no arrests have been made so far, DeCaires said. However, the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs last month issued a cease-and-desist order against an alleged operator of the scam on the Big Island, said DCCA attorney Patricia Moy.

The order, issued July 30, states that the DCCA believes Marlene Vintero and her investment club -- which operated under various names including Women Empowering Women, Women's Gifting Circle, Table Gifting Circle and the Gifting Circle -- are in violation of state securities laws.

Vintero has 30 days to request a hearing, though she has not yet contacted the DCCA, Moy said. If no hearing is requested, the DCCA's findings and penalty will be enforced, Moy said.

The cease-and-desist order was filed after the DCCA received more than 20 complaints about the investment club, Moy said.

Anyone with information on the scam is asked to call CrimeStoppers at (808) 955-8300.

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