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Rip-Off Alert: Ponzi schemer lures quilting group friends

Reported by: Marie Mortera
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Updated: 6/13/2013 5:46 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV -- When it comes to investing your hard-earned dollars, be careful who you trust. In this Rip-Off Alert, even those who you think are your best friends could end up betraying you.

A quilting group hardly seems like the setting for a multimillion-dollar scam. But that's where Katharine O'Keefe says she was targeted by Robin Brass.

"Our relationship went from women involved in this quilting group to extremely close friends,” she said. “Neither of us had sisters. We very much regarded each other as sisters."

Over several years, the women became so close their families vacationed together. When the economy collapsed in 2008, O'Keefe and her husband decided to invest with brass and her company called B-B-R Group.

"In our mind, she was extraordinarily successful,” O’Keefe said. “She and her husband had a house that they had built and added onto, and it was an absolute show case. They took expensive vacations; they had art work."

She says brass claimed to have a "can't lose investment formula" and O'Keefe trusted her, no questions asked.

"On paper we certainly made money,” O’Keefe said. “We received continual statements. She would come to our house, sit down at our dining room table and go over our statements with us."

About a year and half later, everything changed.

"There were checks that had bounced,” O’Keefe said. “We accepted what seemed like plausible reasons for that. In retrospect, it should have been enormous flags to us."

Postal inspectors say B-B-R was a front for an elaborate Ponzi scheme that stole more than $2 million from victims.

"When you think about what this suspect had to go through to gain the trust of all these professional, good people, greed comes to mind,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Brian Feeney. “Unfortunately, it is a powerful motivator."

Brass' Ponzi scheme -- like most -- only lasted as long as she continued to lure in new investors to pay old investors. Unfortunately, O'Keefe and her friends in the quilting group were on the losing end of the pyramid.

"I was devastated. My entire family was devastated,” O’Keefe said. “This was a person that we loved dearly and it was inconceivable to us that she had stolen from us and betrayed us."

Brass pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

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