The owner of Shuttered Dairy has plead guilt to conducting nearly $60 million in fraud. Meanwhile, farm losses 5,800 farms in 2019 versus 2018. Ag Day's Clinton Griffiths explains more in this week's Dairy Report.
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.
The U.S. saw a loss of 5,800 farms in 2019 versus 2018, per USDA. But, that’s the smallest decline in recent years. Since 2012, the average year-over-year decline in the number of farms was around 12,000, with the biggest drop being between 2014 and 2015.
In 2019 the total number of farms in the U.S. totals 2,023,400.
By far, Texas is the winner in farm numbers, with 247,000 farms.
Top 10 States in number of farms
- Texas: 247,000
- Missouri: 95,200
- Iowa: 85,300
- Ohio: 77,800
- Oklahoma: 77,300
- Kentucky: 74,800
- Illinois: 71,400
- California: 69,900
- Tennessee: 69,700
- Minnesota: 68,000
The total land in farms, at 897,400,000 acres, decreased 2,100,000 acres from 2018. This slight year-over-year drop is on par with recent years and a sign farmland isn't vanishing as quickly as some think.
The average farm size for 2019 is 444 acres, which is up 1 acre from the previous year.
States in the west tend to have the largest average farm sizes.
Top 10 States in average farms size
- Wyoming: 2,417
- Montana: 2,164
- Nevada: 1,821
- New Mexico: 1,613
- North Dakota: 1,506
- South Dakota: 1,459
- Arizona: 1,379
- Nebraska: 982
- Colorado: 822
- Alaska: 810