CLEVELAND (AP) — An Ohio man will plead guilty in federal court to defrauding fellow Amish in 29 states out of nearly $17 million as part of a case the man's church had hoped to shield from publicity and outside involvement, the government said Tuesday.
The attorney for Monroe L. Beachy, 77, owner of A&M Investments in Sugarcreek, filed a recent notice informing federal court of his "intention to plead guilty as charged."
U.S. attorney's spokesman Mike Tobin confirmed the pending guilty plea. Beachy declined to comment Thursday, and his attorney didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.
Beachy is accused in an indictment of promising investors safe securities but moving money to riskier investments. According to the indictment, nearly 2,700 people and entities, including an Amish community loan fund, lost about $16.8 million since 2006.
The investments directed by Beachy "were not the 'safe' investments as reported to his clients or investors," the indictment said.
Beachy, bearded with a shock of white hair, is a member of an Amish church near Sugarcreek.
He is charged with one count of mail fraud, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors stopped short of saying whether Beachy had personally profited or just made bad investments but noted he had made a living for years offering investor services to the Amish.
Ohio's Amish communities, concentrated in rural counties south and east of Cleveland, have a modest lifestyle, traveling by horse and buggy and forgoing most modern conveniences. It's uncommon for them to take their disputes public and enlist authorities.
In announcing the indictment last fall, U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said the case highlighted the risks of affinity fraud involving trusting investors from a group with similar ethnic, religious or personal backgrounds.
The religion issue also emerged when A&M Investments filed for bankruptcy protection in June 2010, listing about $33 million in liabilities and nearly $18 million in assets.
A bankruptcy judge rejected a bid by members of Mennonite and Amish communities to let them settle the matter out of court. Members of the Plain Community said Beachy had "accepted the counsel" of his church.
The community has "a history of taking care of our own and mutual aid" and wanted to show the court that the matter should be handled in accordance with Scripture, Paul Miller, a creditor and a Mennonite minister at Maranatha Church at Sugarcreek, said earlier.
In a court appearance in October, Beachy tried to plead no contest on religious grounds. He didn't elaborate on the religious grounds, and his attorney advised against the move.
U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson has changed Thursday's pretrial hearing in Youngstown to a change of plea hearing.
Tobin said the U.S. attorney's office had no immediate comment on the pending guilty plea. Prosecutors typically avoid any comment that might disrupt a defendant's pending agreement to plead guilty.