Schrenker Pleads Guilty To Crash Charges

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Marcus Schrenker's Piper PA46-500TP Malibu Meridian crashed January 11 in the Florida panhandle, without him aboard, and Schrenker Friday pleaded guilty to intentionally crashing an airplane and sending false distress calls related to his use of the aircraft in an alleged attempt to fake his own death. The 38-year-old Indiana fund manager was president of Heritage Wealth Management as the U.S. economy faltered in late 2008. His January flight took him from Indiana to Birmingham, which is roughly where he parachuted out of the aircraft. Schrenker had filed a flight plan to Destin, Fla., where his father lives, but en route sent distress calls via radio saying he had been injured, was bleeding and the aircraft was losing altitude. He followed those with transmissions that he was losing consciousness, then leveled the aircraft at 3,500 feet, put it on autopilot and jumped, landing safely under canopy, according to U.S. attorney Tiffany Eggers. Examination of a laptop later recovered with Schrenker when he was found by U.S. Marshals in a campground near Quincy, Fla., showed he had searched the internet for advice on parachuting from aircraft and "security fraud penalties," according to Bloomberg.

Schrenker faces sentencing Aug. 19. He could go to jail for 20 years on the charge of intentionally crashing the airplane and six years for prompting the Coast Guard search. He could also be fined up to $500,000 and will likely have to pay the Coast Guard $38,000 for costs related to the search. He has not asked to be released on bail. His lawyer, Thomas Keith, told the court Schrenker intend the plane to crash in the Gulf of Mexico rather than the neighborhood in Milton, Fla., where it ended up after running out of fuel. Keith told reporters he's hoping Schrenker's guilty plea will result in a reduced sentence. Schrenker is still also under investigation by Indiana authorities for his investment practice. In that case, the state charges Schrenker acted as an investment advisor without proper credentials.