An Indiana money manager plans to plead guilty to crashing an airplane near a Florida Panhandle neighborhood in a botched attempt to fake his own death and escape financial problems and a crumbling marriage, according to court documents filed yesterday.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson set a re-arraignment and guilty plea hearing today for Marcus Schrenker, 38. The Federal Public Defender’s Office in Pensacola confirmed Schrenker would change his plea to guilty.
Prosecutors say Schrenker was facing financial ruin when he fled Indiana in his single-engine Piper Malibu on Jan. 11. He parachuted from the plane over Alabama after radioing authorities and claiming it was about to crash. The plane, which he left on autopilot, drifted 200 miles toward the Gulf of Mexico but eventually ran out of fuel and crashed behind several homes.
Schrenker then made his way to a storage shed where he had stashed a motorcycle and sped off toward Florida. U.S. marshals caught up with him days later at a remote Panhandle campground. He had slashed his wrist and was drifting in out of consciousness because he lost so much blood.
Federal authorities in Florida charged him with placing a false aircraft distress call and intentionally crashing a plane.
Authorities in Indiana were awaiting resolution of the Florida case before moving forward with charges related to his financial dealings there. They said Schrenker was an amateur daredevil pilot whose high-flying lifestyle included planes, luxury cars and a 10,000-square-foot home in an upscale neighborhood known as “Cocktail Cove,” where affluent boaters often socialized.
Financial investigators say investors lost hundreds of thousands of dollars through annuity investments handled by Schrenker.
In March, an Indiana administrative law judge ordered him to pay $304,000 in restitution to bilked investors and $280,000 in state fines for violating state insurance rules.
Even before that, Schrenker faced millions in judgments and potential penalties ranging from an insurance company’s lawsuit seeking $1.4 million in commissions to a judge’s order that he pay $12 million in a lawsuit over the sale of a plane.
Jeff Wehmueller of the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office in Noblesville, Ind., said Schrenker probably won’t appear there before the end of August because federal statues mandate a 50-day wait between a guilty plea and sentencing.
And Wehmueller said investors who lost money in Schrenker’s schemes are skeptical that he’ll cooperate.
“Until he says I’m actually guilty and did it, we’ll wait to see,” Wehmueller said.
In an April letter to The Associated Press, Schrenker wrote that problems with his finances and marriage caused him to snap and he left Indiana without thinking.
Schrenker’s wife filed for divorce Dec. 30, a day before Indiana police served a search warrant on his home and office. They seized computers, financial documents and evidence of recent document shredding, all within days of his losing a $533,000 judgment to an insurance company.
“I never asked for the help I needed and one day it all came crashing down around me,” Schrenker wrote in his letter.