READING, Pa. (AP) -- The owner of an award-winning organic dairy in Pennsylvania that abruptly closed its doors last fall is accused of milking investors to the tune of nearly $60 million.
Philip Riehl, the majority owner of Trickling Springs Creamery, ran a long-running fraud scheme that preyed on hundreds of Amish and Mennonite investors, according to federal prosecutors. Riehl was charged this week with securities and wire fraud. A message seeking comment was left with his attorney Friday.
The Chambersburg-based dairy opened in 2001 and produced milk, cream, butter, ice cream, yogurt and cheese. The dairy's products were sold up and down the East Coast.
Court documents said Riehl lured investors to a fund that made most of its loans to Trickling Spring and paid off older investors with money from new investors. As of December, investors had lost $59.7 million through the Riehl Investment Program and Trickling Springs, according to court documents.
"Trickling Springs Creamery was a house of cards ready to collapse," U.S. Attorney William McSwain told a news conference in Reading on Friday.
Trickling Springs closed its plant and retail location in Chambersburg last fall, writing on its Facebook page: "We would like to express appreciation to our wonderful employees for their dedication and hard work as well as the farmers who stood beside us and supported our mission. We are especially grateful to the community who has supported and loved our products throughout the past 18 years."
The dairy filed for bankruptcy in December.
Pennsylvania banking regulators previously filed a civil complaint against the dairy, Riehl and its other owners, alleging 370 violations of state securities law. On Thursday, the state banking commission ordered Riehl and his alleged co-conspirators to pay a $4.375 million civil penalty -- believed to be the largest such penalty in state history.
Riehl and the other defendants have been excommunicated by the Mennonite church, The Washington Post reported last month.
The criminal charges against Riehl were filed in the form of an information -- which is often a prelude to a guilty plea -- and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission says that he has apologized in a letter to investors, some of whom lost millions of dollars.