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Schrenker pleads guilty in Fla. plane crash

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Marcus Schrenker

Miami - An Indiana money manger avoided trial in Florida by pleading guilty on Friday to federal charges of intentionally crashing a plane in a scheme to flee financial ruin by faking his death, but his legal troubles aren't over.

Marcus Schrenker, 38, still faces millions of dollars in judgments and penalties related to his failed business dealings in Indiana and officials in that state are waiting their turn to prosecute Schrenker following his Aug. 19 sentencing in Florida.

"He still has to deal with all of those things up there," his attorney, Thomas Keith, said after a brief hearing. Schrenker pleaded guilty to crashing his single-engine Piper Malibu and placing false distress calls to aviation authorities.

Schrenker's trial in the federal case was to start Monday, but Keith said his client opted to plead guilty with the hope of receiving a reduced sentence of between three and five years. Under sentencing guidelines, he faces up to 26 years in prison, $500,000 in fines and at least $38,000 to reimburse the U.S. Coast Guard, Air Force and other agencies.

Financial investigators have said 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.

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.

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.

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.

"I never asked for the help I needed and one day it all came crashing down around me," Schrenker wrote in his letter.

During Friday's 45-minute hearing, Schrenker nodded briefly to his father and stepmother who watched from the front row.

"We are pleased he is taking responsibility. We love our son," said Clyda Schrenker after the hearing.

Schrenker 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 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 Milton. 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.

(Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This story may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.)

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