Branford Dems Rebuff Town Clerk Amid U.S. Attorney Probe

The Branford Democratic Town Committee’s nominating committee rebuffed Marianne Kelly (pictured) in her bid for a fifth term as town clerk last night after learning that her records were subpoenaed in early March by the U.S. Attorney’s Office following her testimony in the “gifting tables” pyramid scheme case in Hartford. 

By a majority vote, the DTC nominating committee supported a new candidate, Pam Knapp, 59, who has worked in human resources for many years and has been a magazine and newspaper writer.  She is currently the chair of the DTC’s third district in Short Beach. Like Kelly, Knapp is known for her loyalty to and hard work for the party.  Knapp said she is well suited to be town clerk and has the research skills and background to do the job.

Word about the subpoena had leaked out in political circles prior to last night’s vote.

According to the U.S. attorney’s subpoena, a federal grand jury investigating the gifting tables cases wanted to see various records from Kelly’s office, which the town sent to the Internal Revenue Service in New Haven. A gifting table is an illegal pyramid scheme that entices people to invest money with the promise of large returns. Often that promise fails. 

Kelly, who joined the gifting tables, was one of many witnesses for the prosecution at the trial of two Guilford women in February.  Click here to read about her testimony and about how the tables operate. 

Reached this morning Kelly said “I haven’t decided” whether she will still run for reelection as town clerk following last night’s vote.

“I love the job and I love the people and I want to continue to serve. I am disheartened by the actions of a small faction of my party for believing the rumors out there,” she said.

“My lawyer led me to believe there is nothing for me to be concerned about, so I am not sure why the rumors persist. However, I do want to keep my job, and I will go forward in some manner when I figure it out to do just that.”

Tom Carson, the public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, told the Eagle today that there is “an ongoing investigation into gifting tables on the shoreline and elsewhere in state.” He would not comment specifically on the Kelly case, he said.

The full DTC will meet in July to endorse a slate of candidates for this year’s municipal elections.  A candidate could still enter a primary after that date. Kelly could choose that route or not. She was a top vote getter in prior elections.

The specific criminal charges against Kelly are not outlined in the federal subpoena, which was served on the town’s custodian of records on March 11. 

She told the Eagle in an interview that she hired a criminal attorney based in Bridgeport after learning that the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued the subpoena for her records.  She said he urged her to continue her quest to secure a fifth term for town clerk. 

Grand juries typically sit for 18 months but can go longer. 

Same Prosecutor in Gifting Tables Seeks Kelly Records

Kelly first won election in 2005 and came into office with First Selectwoman Cheryl Morris. Kelly credited Attorney Ed Marcus, former head of the Democratic Party, with helping run her first campaign for town clerk.

During Kelly’s testimony at the trial in February, a legal wrangle developed over her emails with Jill Marcus, Ed Marcus’s wife. 

Called by Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Jongbloed as a government witness at the trial, Kelly was questioned repeatedly about an email message she sent to Jill Marcus, an email she claimed she never sent, did not write, did not construct. She denied its existence even though the email was introduced into evidence at the trial and appeared on court monitors for the jury to see and evaluate. The email established her strong friendship with Jill Marcus and suggested that Jill Marcus join a gifting table. (Jill Marcus did not join the table.)

The e-mail to Jill Marcus was dated Nov. 19, 2009. She told Jill Marcus she “sent women from our sisterhood to Ed and Shelley (Marcus)  to make sure we are legal due to the Blumenthal investigation of pyramids.” Attorney Shelley Marcus, now a judge, worked for her father’s law firm. She did not join a table.

Kelly was referring to former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s inquiry into gifting tables as pyramid schemes.  “Ed now understands that we are legal. I want to ask you to join us and check it out. Shelley wants to get in, too. I think you should, as least check us out again. Talk to Ed and let me know,” she wrote. At the trial Kelly denied under oath that this was her e-mail. Ed Marcus later changed his mind about the tables being legal.
 
Kelly’s awkward memory issues developed as she testified on Feb. 5. The two defendants were subsequently convicted. Then on March 11, a subpoena seeking a variety of Kelly’s records was sent to Branford Town Hall. Jongbloed was identified as the assistant U.S. attorney requesting the subpoena.

Scope of the Subpoena

The overseer of the town records was required to appear before a grand jury on April 2, but the subpoena also stated that in lieu of a personal appearance, the documents could be mailed to Special Agent Eric Wethje, who is in charge of the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS in New Haven. The records were sent. Wethje also testified at the trial and will examine the Kelly records.  Kelly herself did not appear. 

Weithje and Jongbloed wanted records for the years January 1, 2009 to Jan 1, 2011, a two year period covering the time Kelly participated in the gifting tables operation. She says she only came onto the tables with a $5,000 investment. 

Specifically Jongbloed and Wethje wanted to see all documents in Kelly’s personnel file, including evaluations, wage information, bonuses and related personnel action. They also wanted to know when she took vacations and sick and personal leave time.

They sought all form 1099s and W-2 statements along with correspondence and memos.

The gifting tables trial ended on Feb 20 and the jury convicted the two defendants, Donna Bello and Jill Platt, both of Guilford. They were convicted of criminal wire fraud, conspiracy and filing false tax returns. They were scheduled to be sentenced in May but the judge postponed the sentencing until August.

To join a table, a new recruit had to put up $5,000. Kelly gave her $5,000 and then stayed on long enough to get it back. She says she earned nothing. She left the table some time after Blumenthal began his investigation.

None of the women who earned money on the tables paid taxes on their “gifts.”

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