Marcus Schrenker Says Claim He Tried to Fake Death Is Absurd

Speaking from jail, disgraced money manager said plane crash was an accident.

ByJONANN BRADY via via logo
April 19, 2009, 8:16 PM

April 21, 2009 — -- Marcus Schrenker, a disgraced money manager accused of trying to fake his own death in a plane crash, said those allegations are "absurd."

Schrenker told "GMA" that there would be too much planning involved in faking his own death.

"Let's step back and think about what someone would have to do if they wanted to fake their own death," Schrenker said in a jailhouse telephone interview with "Good Morning America's" Chris Cuomo. "They would have to establish a new identity. They would have to have a well-funded bank account, a place wehre they would live. And I did nothing like that."

Schrenker, 38, said that he'd survived an actual accident Jan. 11 by parachuting to safety after his plane hit turbulence and the oxygen system began to fail.

"I ran into something called CAT -- clear air turbulence. Within the third time running into that turbulence, the aircraft explosively decompressed. The cockpit went from a temperature of 75 degrees to negative 33. And to make matters worse, the supplemental oxygen failed. It was one of the most frightening things I've ever been through in my life," Schrenker said.

Authorities said Schrenker hatched an elaborate plot to stage his own death after he was accused of bilking hundreds of thousands of dollars from his clients. He also recently learned his wife, who learned he was cheating on her, filed for divorce.

Schrenker was arrested two days after the apparent crash at a Tallahassee campground. Officals said the former stunt pilot put his aircraft on autopilot and jumped out over Alabama. After he landed, they said, he drove off on a motorcycle he had stashed nearby.

The plane crashed about 200 miles away in Florida, where he is being held on charges connected to the crash.

Since Schrenker has been under arrest, an Indiana judge handed down an order in March that Schrenker must pay $304,000 in restitution to bilked investors and $280,000 in state fines for violating state insurance rules.

Schrenker's Story About Mental Health, Not Money?

When police and U.S. Marshals captured Schrenker at a Florida campground, they found he had slit his left wrist in an apparent suicide attempt. His tent was stocked with spare clothes, a cell phone, a laptop computer and $2,000 to $3,000 in cash, according to Lt. Jim Corder of the Gadsden County sheriff's office.

Schrenker told "GMA" that his injuries were due to the crash, not a suicide attempt.

"And before anyone asked me what happened they jumped to this conclusion," he said.

Federal authorities were able to trace Schrenker to the KOA Campground using an e-mail sent to a friend in Indiana. In the e-mail, Schrenker expressed remorse for embarrassing his family and hinted at possible suicide, saying, "By the time you read this, I'll be gone."

Schrenker said he began experiencing psychological problems in 2007.

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

Schrenker will appear before a judge Friday to determine whether he's competent to stand trail for intentionally crashing his private plane.

Authorities contend that Schrenker was trying to escape financial collapse. His investment advisory firm Heritage Wealth Management Inc. had numerous court judgments and lawsuits pending, including a $1.4 million lawsuit claiming Schrenker had failed to pay back commissions from insurance polices that never materialized.

Schrenker said he's no Bernie Madoff, the investment fund manager accused of bilking clients for billions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme.

"What happened is the market imploded. We all know that. And our losses were genuine," Schrenker said.

"Look at Madoff, his issue was a $50 billion issue. People love to jump on these stories. They say, 'Look he was flying his own aircraft, had Lexuses, all these things,'" he said. "My situation, we're talking about $50,000 that may have been misappropriated. May have been."

Schrenker: Motorcycle Wasn't for a Getaway

Schrenker also denied that he'd stashed a motorcycle in a self-storage facility in Alabama to use for a getaway, although he admitted it was his motorcycle.

"I can't talk about that. But it was, it's completely untrue. It's really a stretch," Schrenker said.

"It's a stretch to say I could preplan all these things," he said. "We'd lived in Atlanta, and we had motorcycles down there that we'd go riding across the countryside. But the motorcycle was not where someone suggested, it was not used for that."

Schrenker also said he's trying to reconcile with his wife, Michelle, and their children.

The couple's assets were frozen, but Schrenker appealed to Indiana authorities to unfreeze the assets of his wife, listed as his company's chief financial officer, saying she had nothing to do with his alleged financial misdeeds.

"I miss them," Schrenker said. "I was the rock in the family. And not a night goes by that I don't cry for them."

ABC News' Sarah Netter and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events