A Pennsylvania man faces criminal charges for defrauding members of the Amish and Mennonite communities out of $60 million by lying about how their money was to be used, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced Friday.

Philip E. Riehl of Myerstown, Pa., is charged with conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud stemming from an investigation into what the U.S. attorney called one of the largest Pennsylvania-based Ponzi schemes in the state’s history.

He also was charged in a civil case with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission but has agreed to settle that charge. The settlement requires him to return the ill-gotten gains, the SEC said.

Riehl allegedly carried out the scheme by making false guarantees to the members of the close-knit religious community, which he was a part of, that he would pay interest at rates higher than banks, the SEC complaint said. The scheme grew out of an accounting firm that Riehl transformed into an investment program and lasted from 2010 through 2018, the SEC said. Riehl told investors he required two co-signers from those he was lending the money to in order to reduce risk, which was not true, the SEC said.

The money was supposed to go to other members of the religious community, mostly to support their businesses or real estate purchases, when in fact much of the money went to the Trickling Springs Creamery, which he owned, or to pay earlier investors.

According to the SEC complaint, Riehl apologized in a letter sent to investors last year for his dishonesty, including repeatedly falsely stating that he required two co-signers on each loan, which gave a "false sense of security [when] a considerable percentage of the funds were channeled into my personal projects." Trickling Springs Creamery ultimately failed, filing for bankruptcy in December 2019, and Riehl was unable to pay back investors.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the allegations constitute what is sometimes 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 U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

“These investors were looking for honesty and integrity when deciding where and with whom to invest their money,” William M. McSwain, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said in a press release. “According to the [charges], Riehl presented himself as a trusted member of their religious community, only to betray that trust and swindle them out of tens 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 did not care about anyone but himself. Fraudsters must be held accountable under the law – no matter what community they belong to – for justice to prevail.”

Michael T. Harpster, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division, added, “It is particularly loathsome when these criminals exploit trusting members of their own church or community. According to the [charges], Philip Riehl repeatedly misrepresented what he was doing with his investors’ money to people who took him at his word.”