This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Creamery scheme cost investors millions

A Pennsylvania man has been charged with fraud for targeting conservative Mennonites and Amish with a scheme that left nearly $60 million unpaid to investors in a Berks County creamery and investment program.

The Associated Press reported Philip Elvin Riehl of Bethel Township was charged Jan. 29 in federal court with securities fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy.

Riehl is a tax accountant who promised returns of 4.5 to 5 percent on investments in the Riehl Investment Fund by lending investors’ money and using the interest from borrowers to pay investors. The court filing alleges Riehl lied about the portfolio’s diversification, hiding the fact that 40 percent of loans were made to Trickling Springs Creamery, which declared bankruptcy in December.

The Washington Post reported the company was founded in 2001 to support farmers and agricultural practices based on Mennonite beliefs and living in harmony with God’s land.

“Mennonites supported the company,” wrote Tim Carman in the Post, “trusting that its owners operated with the same principles that define their denomination: honesty, integrity, accountability and transparency.”

The court filing says Riehl used investments to make payments to himself, Trickling Springs and earlier investors and distributed materials saying the business was worth $20 million to $40 million when it was actually losing money and relying on the Riehl Investment Program.

Riehl and fellow Trickling Springs co-owners Gerald Byers, Elvin Martin and Dale Martin were charged in 2018 by the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities with 370 charges of selling illegal securities. That case remains unresolved.

The Post reported Riehl, Martin and Martin were excommunicated by their Mennonite churches, and Byers asked to be excommunicated to share in their suffering.

At least four church committees have been established to assist the owners with their problems: spiritual, financial and otherwise, the Post reported. Riehl promised to follow the committees’ directives because, he said, “I want to get to heaven.” With no business left, they have few ways to generate cash to repay investors. But Riehl and Dale have testified they’re putting up personal assets to cover at least a fraction of the losses, according to the Post. Some investors lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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