Amish man wants no-contest plea in Ohio fraud case

An Ohio man charged with defrauding fellow Amish in 29 states out of nearly $17 million insists on pleading no contest on religious grounds at his arraignment, but that wouldn't be in his best interest, his attorney told a federal judge Monday.

J. Gerald Ingram, the attorney for Monroe L. Beachy, 77, owner of A&M Investments in Sugarcreek, highlighted the religion issue in a request to delay Beachy's Tuesday arraignment in Youngstown because of a scheduling conflict.

Such a no-contest plea "is premature and not in the defendant's best interest," Ingram told U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson.

"Because of the troublesome nature of the arraignment, defense counsel is reluctant to ask another attorney to cover the arraignment," Ingram said in his motion.

Amish traditionally avoid involvement in the court system. The issue also emerged earlier in a bankruptcy filing involving Beachy's company.

Ingram said he expects the government to oppose a no-contest plea. At that point, Ingram said he would ask the judge to accept a not guilty plea.

Two prominent Cleveland defense attorneys, Roger Synenberg and Angelo Lonardo, have nearly a combined six decades working in federal court, and each said he has never seen a no-contest plea in U.S. District Court.

Prosecutors won't comment on the plea issue, according to Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Cleveland. Prosecutors will be prepared for the arraignment, he said.

Beachy declined in a phone interview Monday to elaborate on the religious grounds for a no-contest plea.

Beachy promised investors safe securities but allegedly moved money to riskier investments. According to the indictment, nearly 2,700 people and entities, including an Amish community loan fund, lost about $16.8 million since 2006.

A&M Investments filed for bankruptcy protection in June 2010, listing about $33 million in liabilities and nearly $18 million in assets. In March, 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" and wanted to dismiss the bankruptcy filing. He is a member of an Amish church near Sugarcreek.