Agent: Pilot mutters "die" as run from law ends

By JESSICA GRESKO and JAY REEVES, Associated Press Writers Jessica Gresko And Jay Reeves, Associated Press Writers

January 14, 2009

QUINCY, Fla. An investment manager who apparently staged a plane crash to evade personal and financial ruin was barely conscious and muttered the word "die" when federal agents found him bleeding from a slashed wrist, an investigator said Wednesday.

U.S. Marshals apprehended Marcus Schrenker, 38, late Tuesday at a northern Florida campground two days after the amateur daredevil pilot apparently tried to fake his own death in a plane crash. Authorities believe he parachuted to the ground and later sped off on a red motorcycle he had stashed in central Alabama.

Frank Chiumento, an assistant chief with the U.S. Marshals in Florida, said officers had to tend to Schrenker's self-inflicted gash to the wrist before he was airlifted to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Schrenker was listed in fair condition early Wednesday.

The gash was "very serious at the time," Chiumento said. "He was bleeding profusely from the wounds to the left arm." Besides the slashed wrist, there was a puncture wound near his elbow, he said.

Schrenker was semiconscious and muttering single words but appeared to resist first aid from the marshals.

"Just as we were administering first aid to him we were giving him assurances that he would be OK and he seemed to mutter some words that he was resistant to that. He muttered 'die' at one time as if he didn't want the first aid that we were rendering to him," Chiumento said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because no charges have been publicly filed yet, said prosecutors in Florida are considering whether to charge Schrenker with two federal crimes: one for making a false distress call, and another for recklessly letting his plane crash.

Schrenker arrived at the campground Monday night riding his motorcycle, and paid $25.75 in cash for a night on the grounds, said Caroline Hastings, 32, who owns and operates the campground with her husband. She gave him a code to use wireless Internet, four bottles of water and six bundles of firewood. He also bought a six-pack of Bud Light Lime, and said he was leaving in the morning, she said. But by Tuesday, he still wasn't gone, and hadn't paid for another night.

"He said he was going across the country with some buddies. He wanted to stop. He didn't know if they would," Hastings said.

Chiumento said Schrenker was found based on information from U.S. Marshals officers in Indiana and in Alabama. He did not provide details of how Schrenker was tracked to Florida, but told ABC it was not based on tips from the campsite.

Schrenker is expected to be kept in the hospital until Thursday and then to be held in the Gadsden County jail pending extradition to Indiana, a sheriff's office spokesman said.

Deputy U.S. Marshal John Beeman of the Southern District of Indiana said Schrenker will likely be brought back to Hamilton County, just north of Indianapolis, where a judge issued an arrest warrant Tuesday on felony fraud charges alleging that Schrenker acted as a financial adviser after his state license expired on Dec. 31.

Evidence, including the motorcycle authorities believe Schrenker used to get away, was being analyzed Wednesday morning, Chiumento said. He wouldn't describe what else was found at the Chattahoochee campground, but did say the investigation revealed Schrenker was prepared to be on the run for some time.

Schrenker fled not only the law but divorce, a state investigation of his businesses and angry investors who accuse him of stealing potentially millions in savings they entrusted to him.

"We've learned over time that he's a pathological liar you don't believe a single word that comes out of his mouth," said Charles Kinney, a 49-year-old airline pilot from Atlanta who alleges Schrenker scammed up to $135,000 from his parents' retirement fund.

On Sunday two days after burying his stepfather and suffering a half-million-dollar loss in federal court the same day Schrenker was flying his single-engine Piper Malibu to Florida from his Indiana home when he reported the windshield had imploded over central Alabama.

Then his radio went silent.

Military jets tried to intercept the plane and found the door open, the cockpit dark. The aircraft crashed more than 200 miles farther south in a Florida Panhandle bayou surrounded by homes.

Police believe Schrenker parachuted to the ground in central Alabama, where he'd stashed a motorcycle with full saddlebags in a storage unit in Harpersville rented just the day before his flight.

It appeared, by all accounts, that Schrenker was doing quite well.

At 38, he controlled an impressive slate of businesses. Through his Heritage Wealth Management Inc., Heritage Insurance Services Inc. and Icon Wealth Management, he was responsible for providing financial advice and managing portfolios worth millions.

He collected luxury automobiles, owned two airplanes and lived in a 10,000-square-foot house in an upscale neighborhood known as "Cocktail Cove," where affluent boaters often socialize with cocktails in hand.

But officials now say Schrenker's enterprise was ready to topple.

Authorities in Indiana have been investigating Schrenker's businesses on allegations that he sold clients annuities and charged them exorbitant fees they weren't aware they would face.

State Insurance Commissioner Jim Atterholt said Schrenker would close the investors out of one annuity and move them to another while charging them especially high "surrender charges" in one case costing a retired couple $135,000 of their original $900,000 investment.

In recent weeks, Schrenker's life began to spin out of control. According to documents in a lawsuit filed in Indianapolis, Schrenker sent a frantic e-mail to plaintiffs on Dec. 16.

"I walked out on my job about 30 minutes ago," it read. "My career is over ... over one letter in a trade error. One letter!! ... I've had so many people yelling at me today that I couldn't figure out what was up or down. I still can't figure it out."

It's unclear to what "error" he is referring. In another e-mail to a neighbor following his disappearance, Schrenker referred to having "just made a 2 million dollar mistake." But it appeared he was hoping to work things out.

But things were now out of his hands.

On Dec. 31, officers searched Schrenker's home, seizing his family's passports, $6,036 in cash, the title to a Lexus and deposit slips for bank accounts in Michelle Schrenker's name. They also took six computers and nine large plastic tubs filled with various financial and corporate documents.

In the supporting affidavit, investigators suggested Schrenker might have access to at least $665,000 in the offshore accounts of a client.

But it wasn't just his finances that were in turmoil.

Just a day before, Michelle Schrenker had filed for divorce. She told the people searching the house that her husband had been having an affair.

Hours after Schrenker vanished, neighbor Tom Britt received what he believes is an e-mail from Schrenker. The tone was ominous.

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


Associated Press Writers Devlin Barrett in Washington, Rick Callahan, Ken Kusmer and Jeni O'Malley in Indianapolis, and Harry Weber in Atlanta also contributed to this report.