LANCASTER — Discovery Channel claims its new series, Amish Mafia, has broken viewership records for its portrayal of previously unseen law-enforcers among the Amish community here.
A national ratings system and local feedback indicate people are tuning in in droves to watch Lebanon Levi, Jolin the Mennonite and their gang of protectors.
A Discovery executive insisted in a recent interview that the characters are genuine Amish and Mennonite folks living in Lancaster County, not paid actors.
They are actual people, Laurie Goldberg, Discovery's vice president of public relations, said last week. These are real people in the Amish and Mennonite communities.
The network also claims that while many events on the show are re-enacted, they are based on actual happenings.
In its first three episodes (and a few spinoffs), the series depicts Levi's crew wielding guns in fancy cars while confronting violators of the Amish community.
Local viewers claim they know better.
That fighting mentality isn't even there, said Jeffrey Conrad, local defense attorney and former prosecutor who has litigated scores of cases involving the Amish. We can't even get them to file lawsuits when we suggest it.
Conrad said he recently did an interview for an ABC news show regarding Amish behavior here — Conrad believed it was in response to Discovery's series.
Conrad said the interview was halted when he didn't tell stories of guns, avid partying and other mayhem depicted in the series.
During his seven years as a local prosecutor, he heard of no such mafia group.
We would have gone after them, he said.
Other critics have created spoof social-media pages, including one by someone posing as Lebanon Levi, another by someone purporting to be Amish Alvin, and a catchall page, simply titled Amish Mafia is Fake.
On those pages, hordes of followers post wisecracks and take shots at Discovery's vision of the allegedly untold side of the Amish.
The debate rings on as the network stands by the events, as does a prominent player on the show, local attorney Steven Breit.
Fact or fiction, almost everyone seems to be talking about the series.
The show displayed another side of the Amish people, Breit said. Folks in Lancaster County are having a hard time coming to grips with that. You've got people (here) looking at it with a jaundiced eye.
Breit said he doesn't confirm or deny the events on the series, but says he has heard of such activity while defending many Amish folks over the years.
The events are re-creations, he said. I can't speak for the embellishments.
Local skeptics debunked several story lines and content in the series, including:
On the show: Levi is the leader with a criminal past who meets clients and other appointments inside a hay-lined barn office. His alleged rap sheet was displayed in the debut episode as proof.
Reaction: Breit claims to have knowledge of Levi (though he never represented him) and says his criminal record is verified. Conrad said he asked his Amish connections directly about such a person.
Who? they responded, according to Conrad. Across the board, no one heard of him.
•A little fuzz-y
On the show: Listed atop Levi's rap sheet and mentioned by a show narrator as the arresting agency is Lancaster County Police.
Reaction: Hard to dispute, there is no such thing. There is a Lancaster City Bureau of Police, but no countywide force.
The series rolls on with a new episode slated for Wednesday. Breit said he was told only five episodes have been produced, but the network is working on more.
Discovery reported that 3.64 million viewers watched the series premiere on Dec. 12.