Quilting group targeted in Ponzi scheme

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A quilting group hardly seems like the setting for a multi-million dollar scam, but that's where Katherine O'Keefe was targeted.

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

O'Keefe met Robin Brass in the quilting group. Over several years, the two 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 BBR Group.

"In our mind, she was extraordinarily successful she and her husband had a house that they had built and added onto and it was an absolute showcase," O'Keefe said.

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

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

About a year-and-a-half later, everything changed.

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

Postal inspectors say BBR 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. Unfortunately - it is a powerful motivator," U.S. Postal Inspector Brian Feeney said.

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.

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

FOX6's Contact 6 offers the following advice:

  • Always research investment advisors
  • Be suspicious of guaranteed high rates of return and investments that promise little or no risk of loss
  • There is no "sure thing" in investing