Pilot Pleads Guilty in Plane Crash Ruse

Money manager Marcus Schrenker says he faked crash call, cites mental illness.

June 04, 2009, 6:29 PM

June 5, 2009 — -- Marcus Schrenker, an Indiana money manager accused of crashing his plane to fake his own death, has pleaded guilty to charges related to the crash today in federal court.

Schrenker is charged with destruction of an aircraft and causing the coast guard to respond when no help is needed, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

He is not expected to be sentenced for several weeks and then will face other charges in Indiana.

Despite his guilty plea, Schrenker has maintained that he did not know what he was doing when he crashed his plane Jan. 11.

In an interview with ABC News, Schrenker said, "There was clearly something going on with me mentally starting in 2007. Five days before the accident, my wife, psychiatrist and friends, they wanted me hospitalized. But I refused. I wasn't of sound mind."

Schrenker and his wife had lived with their three children in a 10,000-square-foot house on a lake in Indiana, he said. They lived a luxurious lifestyle that included boats and private jets.

But life began to unravel over the past two years, Schrenker added.

In January 2008, the Indiana Department of Insurance filed charges against Schrenker on behalf of customers who claimed he had inappropriately invested their money.

Joe Mazzone, a retired airplane captain for Delta Airlines, told ABC News that Schrenker would "take advantage of trusting, hard-working people." Mazzone and other retired pilots trusted Schrenker with their retirement and claimed that he invested their money in long-term insurance policies without their knowledge. Mazzone also claimed that Schrenker forged documents to transfer his annuities, charging him huge penalties.

As Crisis Swirled, Schrenker Faked Crash, Fled, Sources Say

At the end of 2008, everything seemed to come crashing down around the Schrenker family:

While flying over Alabama, Schrenker called for help, claiming that his windshield had cracked, authorities have said. He then parachuted out of his airplane.

The plane was left on autopilot and eventually crashed into a field near Milton, Fla.

Schrenker survived and made his way to a local motel, where he checked in under his stepbrother's name on a security video seen by ABC News.

He had a motorcycle stashed in a nearby storage unit, according to reports. Schrenker grabbed the bike and headed south.

U.S. Marshals found him days later at a Florida campsite bleeding profusely.

Schrenker had sent an e-mail to Tom Britt, who ran a local Indiana Web site, outlining his plans to kill himself, Britt said. Authorities used that e-mail to trace Schrenker's location.

Since the plane crash, the Schrenkers' assets have been frozen and he continues to be held at Florida's Escambia County Jail.

Schrenker's wife and children remain in the family's house, but a judge has ordered the family to sell it and realtors have begun showing the home. It is listed for $1.5 million.

Schrenker's Statement

In a statement to ABC News, Marcus Schrenker said:

I am sincerely sorry for the pain, suffering and dishonor my actions have caused my friends and family to endure. This has certainly been a regretful chapter in my life.

My decision to unconditionally accept 100 percent responsibility is the first of many necessary steps to start the healing process. My greatest concern is that of my family whom has been undeservingly humiliated and ostracized because of my catatonic behavior.

It has been difficult to come to the realization that I had been suffering from a severe mental illness. Without being treated it manifested and was clearly a contributing factor in the aircraft incident and money management decisions.

I especially want to apologize to the American Aviator, a community of truly remarkable pilots, across many generations, of whom I have dishonored. I was clearly operating in a confounded, diminished capacity and demonstrated irrational conduct of which had no place in the cockpit.

It is my hope that my wife and children know that I love and miss them with the whole of my heart. They have suffered more than anyone in all this and I fail to find words that can appropriately describe the gravity and sheer magnitude of the remorse in me. The unspeakable agony this has afflicted on them can scarcely be described.

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