One of the Largest Pennsylvania-Based Ponzi Schemes in History
Philip Riehl used his identity as a member of the Amish and Mennonite religious communities to swindle his fellow brethren
PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that Philip Elvin Riehl, 68, of Bethel Township, Berks County, PA, was sentenced to 120 months in prison, three years supervised release, and was ordered to pay $59,688,297 in restitution and $59,688,297 in forfeiture by United States District Judge Edward G. Smith for orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme that targeted members of the Mennonite and Amish religious communities in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Riehl was also ordered to forfeit two pieces of real estate, $22 million in loans receivable and $1.145 million in payments.
In February 2020, Riehl pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, and one count of wire fraud. The defendant, a Berks County–based accountant, fraudulently solicited tens of millions of dollars in investments from his accounting clients and others (who are mostly members of the Mennonite or Amish communities) 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.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “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.”
“While no form of fraud is ever acceptable, it takes a particularly vile person to target their own religious community,” said Michael J. Driscoll, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “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.”
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.