CLEVELAND - An Ohio man has agreed to plead guilty to defrauding fellow Amish in 29 states out of nearly $17 million, 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 Beachy's "intention to plead guilty as charged," and spokesman Mike Tobin with the U.S. attorney's office confirmed the pending guilty plea.
U.S. District Court Judge Benita Pearson has changed Thursday's pretrial hearing in Youngstown to a change of plea hearing.
Beachy declined to comment when asked Tuesday whether he had struck a plea bargain or why he was changing his plea. His attorney didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.
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.
The indictment charging Beachy with one count of mail fraud says he promised investors safe securities but moved money to riskier investments. Mail fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
According to the indictment, nearly 2,700 people and entities, including an Amish community loan fund, lost about $16.8 million since 2006.
Beachy's firm has filed for bankruptcy protection.
The investments directed by Beachy "were not the `safe' investments as reported to his clients or investors," the indictment said.
In announcing the agreement 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.
Harvey Salkin, an investment professor at Case Western Reserve University, said dishonest financial advisers can take advantage of personal relationships in close-knit groups.
"People are very susceptible to invest with their own kind," he said. "There are bad apples in every barrel."
Salkin said investors, even those like the Amish who might have limited research options, need to check out investment advisers.
"They can't say, `Well, we don't use telephones, we don't do this, we don't do that.' That's a good way to go broke. And they work hard for their money, very hard," he said.
Dettelbach stopped short of saying whether Beachy had personally profited or just made bad investments, but he noted that Beachy had made a living for years offering investor services to the Amish.
A&M Investments filed for bankruptcy protection in June 2010, listing about $33 million in liabilities and nearly $18 million in assets.
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.
Amish traditionally avoid involvement in the court system. The religion issue also emerged in the bankruptcy filing involving Beachy's company.
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," a Mennonite minister said at the time.
Beachy is a member of an Amish church near Sugarcreek.
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.