Amish businessman ordered to pay $5.2M in scam targeting his own community

A man who authorities said took advantage of his Amish heritage to recruit novice investors into a fraudulent scheme has been ordered to pay $5.2 million, most of it to his clients.

Indiana resident Earl Miller’s 72 investors lost more than $4.1 million when his investments failed, according to a complaint from the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2015. He had encouraged people to put their retirement savings into his fund, which he had no experience in managing, by advertising “double digit annual returns” and promising a fixed-rate return of 8 percent to 12 percent per year, investigators said.

Touting his Amish heritage, Miller advertised in Amish newspapers and arranged community meetings with Amish families to attract inexperienced investors, the SEC said.

Some of Miller's clients put their life savings into his hands, the SEC said. Miller lied to them repeatedly, claiming one fund’s money would be invested exclusively in real estate but putting $391,000 into “highly speculative, fledgling companies,” according to the complaint. He also claimed one fund for investing in “green” energy products owned patents when that wasn’t true.

While Miller said he wouldn’t be paid for managing the fund, he took more than $1 million for his personal use and to buy out a former business partner, officials said.

U.S. District Judge Joseph S. Van Bokkelen ordered Miller this month to pay back the $4.1 million, plus $799,000 in interest and another $320,000 in civil penalties.

Miller contested the allegations, but Van Bokkelen said in the ruling that Miller’s arguments were “a day late and a dollar short.”