An Indiana man convicted last year of defrauding Amish and Mennonite investors was sentenced yesterday to more than eight years in prison and ordered to pay more than $2 million in restitution, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Indiana.
Earl D. Miller, 44, of Goshen, had been indicted in 2020 on charges of wire fraud and securities fraud in relation to his operations of “5 Star,” a real estate investment firm, and was convicted in May 2022 after a five-day jury trial, said a statement by the district office.
Miller had raised more than $4.3 million from about 70 investors, predominantly Amish and Mennonite, many of whom were inexperienced in investing.
“Miller obtained funds from multiple investors by fraudulently telling them he would invest their funds in certain real estate investments but then actually using their funds in other ways, such as paying interest to other investors, investing in non-disclosed entities, paying for a spiritual advisor and a pontoon boat,” the statement said. “From July of 2014 to January of 2016, Miller made over $4.5 million worth of payments from 5 Star accounts to entities not disclosed or approved by investors. Approximately 80% of investors in 5 Star were Amish or Mennonite.”
Miller was sentenced to 97 months in prison, one year of supervised release and ordered to pay $2,313,873.28 in restitution.
At the time of his indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said that Miller had told investors that he would not charge them for managing their money and that it would be invested in green energy products. Instead, he illegally used $1 million of the money investors had given him to pay off a former business partner.
In a parallel case with the SEC over the same charges, the SEC won a judgment in 2019 that ordered Miller to pay more than $5.2 million for defrauding his investors. According to the SEC complaint, Miller used his own Amish heritage to lure investors to community meetings and, ultimately, into trusting him.
Though it was not related to the criminal conviction, in 2016 Miller filed for bankruptcy for 11 businesses entities related to 5 Star, the Northern District of Indiana statement said. As part of the bankruptcy proceedings, a Chapter 11 trustee in 2018 negotiated an agreement for Miller to repay $600,000 to the bankrupt entities, but as of April 2021 he had paid just $36,000 of that amount.