Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pilot Who Tried to Fake Own Death Faces Criminal Charges

By Diane Smith
12:46, January 15th 2009

The Indiana businessman who tried to fake his own death in order to avoid financial and legal problems has been charged by U.S. agents who filed criminal charges against him on Wednesday.

Marcus Schrenker, who parachuted out and left his small plane to continue flying on autopilot until it crashed, is now recovering in a northern Florida hospital but not because injury suffered during the landing. The business man had severe cuts to his wrists when police officers found him at a campground in north Florida and put him under arrest. He apparently tried to kill himself.

U.S. agents filed charges against the 38-year-old money manager in U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Florida. The criminal charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $5,000 fine, plus restitution for the $36,000 rescue effort.

Mr. Schrenker was wanted in the state of Indiana on financial fraud charges. He is accused of misleading consumers who invested in his wealth management companies and misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars of their money.

It is not sure yet whether Mr. Schrenker will appear on the charges because he is still recovering at the hospital, said U.S. Marshals in the Northern District of Florida spokesman Scott Wilson.

It all happened on Sunday night when Schenker made an emergency call to air traffic controller to report that his plane’s windshield had broken and that he was bleeding severely from cuts to his face. Then military jets intercepted his small plane, but the pilots saw the cockpit empty and dark and the plane’s door left open.

After traveling 200 miles on autopilot, the small plane crashed into a swampy area in northern Florida and rescue workers did not find the body of the pilot on the fuselage. The mystery soon vanished when a neighbor and friend of Mr. Schrenker told authorities that he had received an e-mail from the Indiana businessman in which he gave him some hints about his intentions.

Authorities suspect Schrenker parachuted out of the plane in Alabama. The businessman had allegedly stashed a red motorcycle with saddlebags in a storage unit there. The day after the crash, the motorcycle disappeared and his clothes were left behind.

Mr. Schrenker, who probably wanted to avoid the mounting debt and a divorce lawsuit filed by his wife, now faces even more trouble. U.S. authorities said they are considering making him pay for the cost of the search and he also faces the criminal charges aforementioned.

“We were happy to know that he is alive and safe ... but now we're going to make sure he's being held properly accountable for his actions," said Jeffrey Wehmueller, administrative chief deputy for Indiana's Hamilton County.

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