Suzanne Woods Fisher shares a guest post today in promotion of her new book The Letters.  As Suzanne explains below, for this book she drew on the story of Monroe Beachy, an Ohio Amish investment manager who pleaded guilty to mail fraud and is currently serving six and a half years in federal prison.

This reminded me of another recent, related news item.  It’s kind of hard to believe looking back now, but the past few years have seen two huge Plain financial scandals essentially happening at the same time.

The other involved a man named John Sensenig, a horse-and-buggy Mennonite living in Lancaster County.  Sensenig ran an investment scheme whose investors were drawn largely from the Plain community.  At around $90 million, contributions to Sensenig’s business nearly tripled the size of Beachy’s, and so do its estimated losses, ranging from $45 million to $65 million.

The past month brought resolution of sorts of the Sensenig case, when he settled with the SEC for $131,500, “about all he has left”, and agreed to take no part in future financial offerings.

Interestingly, as this article notes, Sensenig does not seem to have ever been the subject of a criminal case.  The writer suggests this: “Sensenig might have benefited from long-standing traits unique to the tight-knit, turn-the-other-cheek world of the Amish and Old Order Mennonites:  Trust your brethren. Resist outside influences. Be forgiving.”

Speaking of turning the other cheek, I’ve wondered how men in this situation–who have brought financial ruin to many of their kin–are able to integrate back into their societies.  Beachy is still in prison, while Sensenig remains in his community, working as a welder and attending church regularly.  In such a case, would it be harder to be the offender, or one of those tasked with forgiving?  I’m just glad I’ve never had to find out.

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The Start of a Story

Suzanne Woods Fisher

The Letters, Book 1 of ‘The Inn at Eagle Hill’ series, was inspired by a national news story that made headlines in 2011. The manager of a Sugarcreek, Ohio investment company was charged with defrauding thousands of his fellow Amish farmers, carpenters and neighbors of tens of millions of dollars in an alleged Ponzi scheme.

The investment company, started in 1990, included widows and retirees, children, a Mennonite church, and even a school cookbook fund. By 1998, the investment company had lost nearly all the investors’ money through mismanagement: speculative investments such as risky stocks, mutual funds and junk bonds. And yet the fund manager continued to solicit investments from new investors, investigators said, to use the money to repay earlier investors. The charges earned the investor a nickname: The Amish Bernie Madoff.

Here’s the part that caught my attention: Although entitled, the Plain investors chose not to make claims to the Securities Exchange Commission to receive funds from liquidated assets of the investment company. Instead, Amish and Mennonite communities took up donations to help reimburse those church members who had lost money in the fund.

Startling, isn’t it? For biblical reasons, the Amish won’t sue anyone in a court of law. If they are wronged, so be it. They live by the proverbs, “It is better to suffer wrong than to commit wrong” and “A man is happier to be sometimes cheated than to never trust.”

Writers of Amish fiction are often accused of romanticizing the Amish and while I don’t deny truth in that criticism, there are aspects of the Plain life that can be inspiring to the greater mainstream society. We don’t have to “go Amish” to be reminded that there might be a better way of handling our problems. Let’s take the example of the Plain church’s response to the Amish Bernie Madoff disaster: avoid litigation at all costs, care for your neighbor in practical ways, and trust God to balance the scales of justice.

fisher-lettersSuzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling author of fiction and non-fiction about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books. Her newest novel is The Letters, Book 1 from ‘The Inn at Eagle Hill’ series, a fictional twist on the Amish Bernie Madoff story. You’re invited to get your daily dose of a Penn Dutch proverb by downloading Amish Wisdom, a free app for iPhones and Androids. You can find Suzanne on-line at http://suzannewoodsfisher.com/.