January 31, 2020
The former owner of a Pennsylvania creamery led a $60 million ponzi scheme targeting members of the Mennonite and Amish communities, according to federal prosecutors.
The alleged scheme amounts to one of the largest in Pennsylvania history.
Philip Elvin Riehl, 68, a Berks County accountant and the former majority owner of Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, Franklin County, was charged with conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud. The charges are being brought by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Prosecutors accuse Riehl of soliciting investments from his accounting clients into a fake investment program. He then allegedly diverted those funds to the creamery. Riehl also is accused of fraudulently soliciting direct investments in Trickling Springs.
The federal charges follow a similar state investigation that accused Riehl and three other former co-owners of selling illegal promissory notes. The creamery shut its doors in September. In December, Trickling Springs filed for bankruptcy.
Riehl's alleged targeting of Mennonite and Amish people amounts to affinity fraud, according to federal prosecutors. Affinity fraud describes cases in which investment scams exploit the trust of members or friends in identifiable groups – in this case a well-known rural Pennsylvanian religious community.
"Riehl presented himself as a trusted member of their religious community, only to betray that trust and swindle them out of tens of millions of dollars," U.S. Attorney William McSwain said. "It is only natural for members of a tightly knit community to want to take care of one another, but Riehl did not care about anyone but himself."
Both the Mennonite and Amish churches, which have similar traditionalist Christian beliefs, often provide financial support, including loans, to fellow members. Businesses such as Anabaptist Financial provide support to Amish-affiliated businesses.
Riehl and the other former owners of Trickling Springs reportedly have been excommunicated from their Mennonite churches.
"It is particularly loathsome when these criminals exploit trusting members of their own church or community," said Michael T. Harpster, special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division. "Philip Riehl repeatedly misrepresented what he was doing with his investors’ money – people who took him at his word."
If convicted, Reihl faces a maximum possible sentence of 45 years in prison, a $5,500,000 fine, a 3-year term of supervised release, forfeiture and mandatory restitution.