In February we posted about Philip E. Riehl, a now-excommunicated Mennonite man who defrauded Mennonite and Amish investors to the tune of $60 million, in one of the largest Ponzi schemes in state history. Riehl was sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison. From the Allentown Morning Call:
BERKS COUNTY — An accountant who promised safe investments for his Mennonite and Amish clients but instead funneled their money into a failing organic dairy business was sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison.
Philip E. Riehl, 68 of Bethel Township, Berks County, pleaded guilty in February to securities fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy, taking responsibility for the scheme that cost investors nearly $60 million.
In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge Edward G. Smith ordered Riehl to make restitution and forfeit two pieces of real estate, $22 million in receivable loans and $1.1 million in loan payments.
Described as one of the largest Ponzi schemes in Pennsylvania history, prosecutors say Riehl used his identity as a member of the Mennonite and Amish community to prey on the trust of his brethren.
“The people who invested their money, sometimes their entire life’s savings, with Philip Riehl believed implicitly that they could trust him because he was one of their own,” U.S. Attorney William McSwain said.
The scheme in a nutshell:
According to court documents, Riehl persuaded clients for more than two decades to invest in the Riehl Investment Program, promising returns of up to 5% and assuring them their money was secure because the loans the program made were in a diverse portfolio of industries and required two co-signers.
In reality, prosecutors said, the program was a house of cards and Riehl’s pitch “a set of well-crafted lies.”
About 40% of the loans were to Trickling Springs Creamery, a faltering niche dairy of which Riehl was the majority owner. By 2018, the creamery owed $22 million to the Riehl Investment Program.
People lost retirement savings and money allotted for future medical care. Riehl continues to say that this was unintentional, and is hoping for forgiveness:
“He maintains that he did not do this intentionally. He hopes that he can be forgiven, and will spend the rest of his life working to achieve that from his victims,” Christopher Sarno said.
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Not a Mennonite
Please don’t refer to this scamp as a “Mennonite”. He is either a “former Mennonite” or preferably an “X-Mennonite”. Thank you. Actually, in his heart, it’s questionable if he ever was a “Mennonite”.
I updated the post to describe him as a “now-excommunicated Mennonite”. I assume that status is unchanged at this point. Would his church be open to taking him back in?
I’m reminded of Bernie Madoff (SP?)intentionally defrauding investors. No happy outcome was possible and Bernie knew it. That’s a good definition of evil intent. Without knowing more, it sounds like this man was blinded by wishful thinking the creamery would prosper and reward investors. That would make him only a dishonest fool. He still deserves his penalty (if not even more) and an example of the road to hell paved with good intention.
And then there’s John Sensenig – formerly of New Holland, Pa….who also swindled many Amish and Mennonite people out of their life savings, etc. Many of them were now left in dire straits…wondering where the money went?
Sensenig (at least) presented himself as an Old Order Mennonite. Surprisingly I found no sign he was ever criminally prosecuted. That is a breath taking display of forgiveness. Tar and feathers come to my mind.
Here’s a good summary of what happened.
This story answers a lot of questions about what happened to the dairy. My wife and I shop at a farm market here in eastern Virginia that carried Trickling Springs products. Great stuff! Then, over one weekend, the product line disappeared. The market owners didn’t know why. Very mysterious and disappointing. But, now I know. Thanks for posting the story. We will pray for the families tricked by that despicable Ponzi scheme.
What about the other 3 men involved?
Did the other 3 men involved receive any punishment from the court? I know they were excommunicated from their churches.
Simply not enough.