Man accused of defrauding Amish, Mennonite communities in $60M Ponzi scheme

Jim Melwert
January 31, 2020 - 3:08 pm
Categories: 

READING, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A Berks County man has been charged with running one of the largest Ponzi schemes based in Pennsylvania, where he allegedly he ripped off the Amish and Mennonite communities for $60 million.

Elvin Riehl, a 68-year-old member of the Mennonite community, is accused of convincing people to put tens of millions of dollars into a bogus investment scheme. But U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain said he diverted that money to his failing business: Trickling Springs Creamery.

“Because of this fraud, Trickling Springs Creamery was a house of cards ready to collapse,” he said.

McSwain said this is an instance of affinity fraud: when a member of a particular group preys upon others in that group, knowing they’ll be more loyal and potentially more gullible.

“The victims of his alleged scheme — which are in the hundreds — were generally members of the Mennonite or Amish religious communities, who wanted a safe and secure investment that operated within their community and that operated in a manner consistent with their religious principles,” he explained. “These investors were looking for honesty and they were looking for integrity and they were looking for these qualities from someone who was one of their own, because that’s important to them.”

Insular groups like the Mennonite and Amish can be more vulnerable to this type of fraud, according to McSwain, as they are hesitant to ask for outside help.

Some of the victims are out millions of dollars, and because some Amish people don’t believe in government assistance like Social Security, this could be “their life savings that they’ve given to this fraudster.”

Riehl is charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and securities fraud. If convicted, he could face a maximum of 45 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.