PENSACOLA, Fla. – An Indiana money manager pleaded guilty Friday to federal charges that he crashed his airplane near a Florida Panhandle neighborhood, part of an elaborate scheme to fake his death and escape financial problems and a crumbling marriage.
Marcus Schrenker, 38, spoke with a clear voice as he pleaded guilty to intentionally crashing the small plane and making a false distress call. He faces up to 26 years in prison, $500,000 in fines and at least $38,000 to reimburse the military when sentenced Aug. 19 by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson. He made no statement.
Prosecutors say Schrenker was facing financial ruin when he fled Indiana in his single-engine Piper Malibu on Jan. 11. As the plane flew over Alabama, he radioed controllers that his windshield had imploded and that he was bleeding profusely. The radio went silent.
Schrenker admitted in his plea that he pointed the plane toward the Gulf of Mexico, engaged the autopilot and parachuted out, hoping the plane would crash at sea and it would appear he had gone down with it. He made his way to a storage shed where he had stashed a motorcycle and sped toward Florida.
Military jets tried to intercept the plane and found the door open and the cockpit dark. The plane flew unmanned for 200 miles, but it ran out of fuel short of the Gulf and crashed near the Panhandle town of Quincy. When investigators found no body or evidence of the airborne accident Schrenker reported, the search for him was on.
Marshals found him two days later at a remote Panhandle campground, bleeding profusely from a self-inflicted wrist slash and drifting in and out of consciousness.
Indiana authorities 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.
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.