PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The owner of an award-winning organic dairy in Pennsylvania that abruptly closed its doors last fall pleaded guilty Thursday to running a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors of nearly $60 million.
Philip Riehl, an accountant and 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. He pleaded guilty in federal court to securities and wire fraud and conspiracy.
Sentencing was scheduled for June. Riehl, 68, faces a maximum of 45 years in prison.
"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," U.S. Attorney William McSwain said in a written statement. "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."
Chambersburg-based Trickling Springs Creamery 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 Springs and paid off older investors with money from new investors. He and a co-conspirator also sold promissory notes in an effort to prop up the struggling creamery, lying to investors that it was profitable when in reality it was losing money, according to court documents.
As of December, investors had lost $59.7 million through the Riehl Investment Program and Trickling Springs, falling victim to one of the largest Ponzi schemes in state history, authorities have said.
Trickling Springs closed its plant and retail location in Chambersburg last fall and filed for bankruptcy in December.
Riehl previously apologized in a letter to investors.