A Lebanon man was charged Thursday in what federal authorities said was a $1 million investment fraud scheme that targeted local farmers.
The alleged scheme started around 2003 when Christopher Burhans started a private mortgage company known as Angelic Ventures. The purpose, officials said, was to solicit investors to provide money for private mortgages.
About three years later, Burhans started another business, known as Home Buyers Solutions Inc. (HBSI). Its purpose, officials said, was also to use investor funds to finance private real estate loans.
Burhans carried out the scheme to defraud investors by advertising both businesses in several farming newspapers, including "Fish Wrapper," "Die Botschaft" and "Lancaster Farming," said federal authorities, adding that Burhans promised rates of return as high as 12 percent for insured and secured investments.
Over the course of about three years, officials said Burhans received more than $2.3 million from individuals investing in one of the two businesses.
In December 2009, however, Burhans informed his investors in writing that Angelic Ventures and HBSI were no longer in business because of the downturn in the economy, officials said. In his letter, he wrote that the business losses "ate up even our reserves and all of our own personal belongings."
At the time, officials said Burhans owed investors more than $1 million.
Burhans misappropriated much of the money he received from investors by diverting it to other businesses he owned, buying multiple timeshares for vacations, and paying salaries to himself, his wife and his son, officials said.
Burhans, 64, was charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud. The maximum penalty, officials said, is five years in prison, a term of supervised release and a fine.