YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- As members of his community watched quietly in court, an Ohio man admitted Thursday that he defrauded fellow Amish in 29 states out of nearly $17 million.
Monroe L. Beachy, 77, of Sugarcreek changed his plea to guilty in U.S. District Court before Judge Benita Pearson. She ordered a pre-sentence report and scheduled sentencing for May 24.
A one-count mail fraud indictment returned last year charged Beachy with promising investors safe securities but moving money to riskier investments.
The indictment says nearly 2,700 people and entities, including an Amish community loan fund, lost about $16.8 million since 2006. Beachy's company has filed for bankruptcy protection.
The charge carries a maximum 20-year sentence, but under federal sentencing guidelines, he is likely to face 12 to 15 years. The government hasn't indicated what sentence recommendation it might make to the judge, U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Mike Tobin said.
Beachy's lawyer, Gerry Ingram, told the judge he intends to ask for leniency.
"Mr. Beachy did not personally benefit and the loss was not a result of him secretly stashing away money, but was a result of market fluctuations," Ingram said.
"He has always lived a very modest lifestyle."
But the government said Beachy had misled investors.
"Beachy told the investors that their money would be used to purchase risk-free U.S. government securities, which would generate returns for the investors," the Securities and Exchange Commission said last year in a civil filing.
"In reality, Beachy used the money to make speculative investments in high yield (junk) bonds, mutual funds, and stocks."
Beachy, bearded with a shock of white hair, is a member of an Amish church near Sugarcreek, about 60 miles south of Cleveland.
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.
Fellow Amish had sought to intervene in the bankruptcy case involving Beachy's investment company and have it settled out of court, but the judge rejected the move.
Members of the Plain Community said Beachy had "accepted the counsel" of his church.