A Bethel Township accountant will spend a decade in federal prison for leading a Ponzi scheme that bilked Amish and Mennonite investors out of $60 million.
Philip Elvin Riehl, 68, had pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud, securities fraud and wire fraud.
U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain announced Monday Riehl has been sentenced to 120 months in prison, three years supervised released and must pay just over $59.6 million in restitution and $59.6 million in forfeiture.
Riehl was also ordered to forfeit two pieces of real estate, $22 million in loans receivable and $1.145 million in payments.
Riehl was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Edward G. Smith.
The Ponzi scheme that Riehl orchestrated was one of the largest in Pennsylvania's history.
Starting in 2010, he solicited tens of millions of dollars in investments for an investment program he operated. Riehl, a member of Little Mountain Mennonite Church just inside the county line near Fredericksburg, Lebanon County, mainly targeted fellow Mennonites and members of the Amish community.
The money he collected was diverted to Trickling Springs Creamery, LLC, a Franklin County-based creamery of which Riehl was the majority owner. Riehl also fraudulently solicited direct investments in Trickling Springs Creamery.
Riehl misrepresented the safety and security of the investments in his program, and lied about the program's performance. He also lied about the creamery's business and financial condition.
He used money from new investors to pay earlier investors.
Trickling Springs Creamery announced it was closing down in September 2019, and filed for bankruptcy that December. As a result, investors lost around $60 million.
The type of fraud Riehl orchestrated is commonly called "affinity fraud." It involves an investment scam that preys on members of identifiable groups, such as religious communities.
Affinity fraud exploits the trust and friendship that exists in groups of people who share common interests or beliefs.
"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," McSwain said. "Riehl preyed upon that trust, swindling them out of tens of millions of dollars in an effort to keep his creamery business from going under. No matter what community they belong to, fraudsters like Riehl must be held accountable under the law for justice to prevail."
Michael J. Driscoll, special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division, which investigated the case, said Riehl's scam featured a high level of malice.
"While no form of fraud is ever acceptable, it takes a particularly vile person to target their own religious community," he said. "Philip Riehl’s investors knew him and they took him at his word. He fully exploited that trust, misleading them repeatedly, with some $60 million of their hard-earned money disappearing into what proved nothing more than a giant Ponzi scheme.
"While we can never make his victims whole financially or emotionally, today he is being held accountable and that is some measure of justice for those he’s wronged."