An Indiana money manager facing prison for trying to fake his death by parachuting out of a plane and crashing it after a fraud scheme began to unravel testified Tuesday that he has no money to pay child support.
But a lawyer questioned Marcus Schrenker's truthfulness as she pressed him about financial claims he had made in letters he wrote to his estranged wife, Michelle, including one that he had dived out of the plane carrying a 90-pound bag of gold.
Schrenker, who was sentenced last week to 10 years in prison on securities fraud charges, took the stand in shackles and had trouble turning the pages of the letters as attorney Mary Schmid handed them to him and asked him to read from them. He also faces a four-year federal sentence for crashing the plane in Florida in January 2009.
"It was a simple economic decision," Schrenker said of the plane crash, which he repeatedly referred to as "the incident." He said his family stood to gain millions of dollars in life insurance, while he would be unable to provide for them if he were in prison and burdened with judgments. Schrenker said he bid a tearful goodbye to his wife and three children on the night of his final flight.
Schrenker pleaded guilty last month to charges he conned friends and relatives, including his own aunt, to invest a total of about $1.5 million in a nonexistent foreign currency fund he used to finance his own high-flying lifestyle.
Facing mounting legal problems, Schrenker put his small plane on autopilot in January 2009 and jumped out with a parachute. He said he pointed the plane toward the Gulf of Mexico, but the plane ran out of fuel and crashed in the Florida Panhandle.
Schrenker parachuted into Alabama and was found two days later at a Florida campground, bleeding of a self-inflicted wrist slash.
Schrenker, 39, testified Tuesday that his assets had been seized and he had no source of income since going to jail. He also faces millions of dollars in court-ordered judgments upon his release.
But Schmid pointed out letter passages in which he informed his wife of more than $1 million in offshore bank accounts and potentially lucrative book and movie deals.
Schrenker said his wife must have been aware of the offshore money because she was chief financial officer for one of his companies, and that he had decided against writing a book. Michelle Schrenker, however, previously has denied knowledge of her husband's business dealings and he later acknowledged that while he wasn't writing a book, another author was. He said the money from the book was to be placed in a trust fund for the couple's children.
Schmid also questioned him about perhaps his strangest claim—that there was a bag containing 1,440 ounces of gold at the bottom of the river in Alabama where he had landed after parachuting.
Schmid asked Schrenker if he had made any effort to recover the gold, and Schrenker said he had not, but he imagined some people would be trying to recover it now.
Such an amount of gold would be worth about $1.9 million at Tuesday's rates on New York exchanges.