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The Amish Bernie Madoff

Monroe Beachy's assets are said to be a horse, buggy and some harnesses.
Steffen Thalemann
/
Getty Images
Monroe Beachy's assets are said to be a horse, buggy and some harnesses.

Monroe Beachy doesn't particularly stand out in the Amish community of Sugarcreek, Ohio.

"He's a little under 6 feet tall, has short gray-white hair," Beverly Keller, the editor of the Budgetnewspaper in Sugarcreek, tells Weekend All Things Consideredhost Guy Raz. "He is your typical Amish man with a beard and wearing the suspenders."

She's only met Beachy, 77, in passing, but has become well-acquainted with his story. Federal investigators say that Beachy was using his business, A&M Investments, as a front for a multimillion dollar Ponzi scheme.

It came to light when Keller was walking to work last June and noticed something odd.

"I saw this sign on the front of A&M Investments that said 'Closed due to investigation' and I scratched my head and I said, 'Oh, there's got to be something to this,'" Keller says.

Keller started to investigate and found out that Beachy, a pillar of the Amish community, was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for fraud.

Like most Amish men, Beachy has an eighth grade education. In the 1980s, he took a few classes at H&R Block, set up an investment fund for his fellow Amish and came to be regarded as a kind of financial guru for the community.

"He was paying 5, 6, 7 8 percent," Keller says. "And that's not something you're going to get at the bank."

Investors would send him cash in the mail. Every month, Beachy sent out handwritten statements, outlining investors' supposed new balances.

"In reality, he was not earning that," Keller says.

Over the next two decades, he acquired $33 million from investors in 29 states. He took the money and put it into junk bonds and Internet schemes. But he never made any profit. In fact, the fund hemorrhaged money.

Beachey was seen by his fellow Amish as a Warren Buffett-type figure with the power of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the methods of convicted financier Bernie Madoff. When the SEC caught up with him, it figured out he had almost nothing to show for.

"Really, his only assets were his horse, his buggy, and his harnesses," says Keller.

But to his community, Beachy's biggest sin was filing for bankruptcy rather than working it out within the Amish legal system. In December, he filed a motion in federal court to have his bankruptcy rescinded, a move the SEC is challenging.

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