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Berks Accountant Pleads Guilty to One of the Largest PA-Based Ponzi Schemes in History

by U.S. Attorney’s Office - Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Mar 03, 2020

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced last week that Philip Elvin Riehl, 68, of Bethel Township, Berks County, PA, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges related to a Ponzi scheme he operated worth approximately $60 million. The fraud targeted members of the Mennonite and Amish religious communities in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, of which the defendant is a member.

The defendant was charged in January 2020 with one count each of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, and one count of wire fraud. Riehl, a Berks County–based accountant, fraudulently solicited tens of millions of dollars in investments, from his accounting clients and others who are mostly Mennonite or Amish, into an investment program that he operated.

Riehl then diverted funds from the program to Trickling Springs Creamery, LLC, a Franklin County–based creamery of which he was the majority owner. Riehl also fraudulently solicited direct investments in Trickling Springs Creamery. The defendant made material misrepresentations about the safety and security of these investments in his program and about the performance of the program, as well as misrepresentations and omissions about the creamery’s business and financial condition. Trickling Springs Creamery announced it was ceasing operations in September 2019 and filed a bankruptcy petition in December 2019. Investor losses are estimated to be around $60 million, making this one of the largest Pennsylvania-based Ponzi schemes ever.

The entire scheme is what is commonly referred to as “affinity fraud,” which typically involves investment scams that prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities. These types of scams exploit the trust and friendship that exist in groups of people who share common interests or beliefs.

“Riehl’s victims trusted him to handle their investments with honesty and integrity. Instead, he took advantage of their trust based on their mutual religious affiliation,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “In some cases, the defendant swindled individuals out of millions of dollars. It is only natural for members of a tightly knit community to want to take care of one another, but Riehl wasn’t concerned with taking care of anyone but himself and he doesn’t deserve the loyalty of his victims now. These types of devastating crimes must be reported, and the guilty parties must be held accountable under the law.”

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael J. Rinaldi. The U.S. Attorney’s Office appreciates the assistance of the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

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