Thursday, January 15, 2009

What Is This, Dumb Week?

A.P. Quincy, Fla. January,15,2009

E-mail led police to pilot's tent

Investment adviser Marcus Schrenker faced about $9 million in court judgments and legal claims, according to a review of court documents by the Associated Press.

"He muttered 'die' at one time as if he didn't want the first aid that we were rendering to him."
— Frank Chiumento, assistant chief with the U.S. Marshals

Marc Schrenker, pictured above with his wife, Michelle, tried to fake his own death to escape turmoil.

Marcus Schrenker thought he would never be found again when he leaped out of his plane over rural Alabama, police say.

His elaborate plan involved a fake distress call to air-traffic controllers, ditching the single-engine plane and riding off on a motorcycle, according to a complaint filed in federal court Wednesday.

An investment adviser who was facing accusations of defrauding clients of millions of dollars, Schrenker had maps, a tent, a first aid kit, cold- and warm-weather clothes and about $2,600 in cash, said Lt. Jim Corder of the Gadsden County, Fla., Sheriff's Office.

"He had every intention of hiding his identity for the rest of his life," Corder said.

Schrenker's plan fell apart with a single e-mail to a friend, Corder said. The friend turned it over to police, and they tracked its source to a laptop that accessed the Internet at a campground in northern Florida.

After evading a manhunt that involved federal, state and local law enforcement officials from Indiana, Alabama and Florida, Schrenker was found in a tent Tuesday night at a KOA campground in Quincy, Fla. Although the search is over, agencies are just beginning to figure out what charges he will face.

"We're going to do a roundtable and find out who's going to get him first," Corder said.

The U.S. attorney's office in Pensacola, Fla., went first, charging Schrenker on Wednesday with placing a false distress call and purposefully crashing his plane.

He faced about $9 million in court judgments and legal claims, according to a review of court documents by the Associated Press. According to a letter he wrote in early December, he was planning to file for bankruptcy. Corder said the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Aviation Administration are involved to determine whether further charges are necessary.

On Wednesday, Schrenker was in a Tallahassee hospital recovering from an attempt to kill himself by taking aspirin tablets to thin his blood and slashing his right arm, Corder said. Schrenker was found lying in his blood and unconscious, Corder said.

Schrenker was a high-end investment adviser near Indianapolis and loved to fly.

On top of his legal troubles, his wife, Michelle, recently filed for divorce. On Wednesday, her lawyer put out a statement saying Schrenker had a girlfriend in Florida. "Michelle and her three young children are victims of this man's deceitfulness as well," the statement read.

As his troubles mounted, Schrenker decided to fake his death, Corder said. Schrenker took off from Indiana's Anderson Municipal Airport on Sunday in his single-engine Piper bound for Destin, Fla. While flying near Birmingham, Ala., he placed a distress call; he said his windshield had blown out and he was bleeding.

Air-traffic controllers didn't hear from him, and the plane kept flying, presumably on autopilot. Military jets were sent to intercept it, Corder said, because the plane was approaching military bases. When the jets reached the plane, the pilots saw the door open and the cockpit dark.

The plane crashed near East Milton, Fla., and rescue workers tried to find the pilot's body — but Schrenker turned up alive more than 200 miles north in Childersburg, Ala. He ran into some officers in a store, and Schrenker, wet from the knees down, told them he had been in a canoeing accident. The police escorted him to a hotel, said Harpersville, Ala., Police Chief David Latimer.

Harpersville police later learned of the plane crash, but Schrenker was gone. Latimer said Schrenker rode off on a red motorcycle he had stored nearby.

Tom Britt, the friend who received Schrenker's e-mail, told the Associated Press that Schrenker wrote that the crash was an accident. Britt turned the e-mail over to federal authorities, fearing it was a suicide note, he said.

Britt quoted Schrenker as saying, "I embarrassed my family for the last time" and "By the time you read this, I'll be gone."

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