This is only the latest in a lengthening line of schemes which have taken advantage of Plain community investors.
FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. — A Pennsylvania accountant defrauded Amish and Mennonite community members out of $60 million after investing their money in a failing dairy he owned, investigators said.
Philip E. Riehl provided accounting services to members in the religious communities. He created an investment company, pooling money raised by selling promissory notes to community members, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Riehl successfully raised many millions in fund over the course of a decade.
He told investors the money would go to loans to finance businesses and real estate purchases for others in the community. But things went in a different direction:
Instead, he sold investors notes issued by Trickling Springs Creamery, a failing dairy company he owned. He did not inform investors of the company’s mounting debt and financial difficulties.
Riehl diverted money to the creamery in 2018 against at least one investor’s wishes.
Riehl asked for two co-signers for his deals. He was apparently aware of the feeling of confidence that would create.
He wrote in an apology letter that this created a “false sense of security, in that such a considerable percentage of the funds were channeled into my personal projects.”
Trickling Springs shut down in September. Riehl soon after filed for bankruptcy.
Members of Riehl’s Mennonite church, as well as Amish, have taken a big hit.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
It’s unclear where the $60 million went or if investors will be refunded, but “most of the victims were members of the Little Mountain Mennonite Church or were Amish,” said U.S. Attorney William McSwain in an interview. “That’s a very tight-knit community. Sometimes they don’t interact with law enforcement much, but the allegations were so egregious that many have cooperated.”
Mennonites and Amish victims of Riehl’s alleged crimes also “are hurting financially. They have strict religious beliefs and part of that is they don’t accept government assistance, such as Social Security, unemployment, or welfare,” McSwain said.
However, “they don’t complain. Part of the reason we’re being so public is that we want to spread the word that other victims should contact us.”
Riehl has been excommunicated from his church. He now faces up to 45 years in prison.
A year back, I listed the numerous scams – totaling well over $100 million in value – which have claimed Amish and Mennonite victims since 2008.
Since it seems appropriate now, I’ll re-post my concluding section of that post here. It may have been too optimistic:
Will the story keep repeating?
With close-knit church communities like Amish and Mennonites, there is built-in trust which can more easily be exploited in what has been termed affinity fraud. Unfortunately that has now happened multiple times.
One possibly positive point, however. These schemes were all occurring at more or less the same time. And all were exposed within a period of six or seven years.
Earl D. Miller ran his business from roughly 2008-2015. The A & M case came to a head with the fund’s bankruptcy in 2010. Pigeon King started in 2001 and had fallen apart by 2008. Sensenig operated from around 1997 until 2009.
Hopefully these cases coming to light in close succession has driven the lesson home, and will help bring an end to an era of large-scale financial exploitation of and within Plain communities.
At the same time, by their very close-knit nature where trust between members is inherent, Amish and Mennonite communities will remain at some risk of this repeating in future.