Indiana pilot pleads guilty in federal court

The Indiana pilot who parachuted out of his airplane over Shelby County in a failed attempt to fake his own death pleaded guilty in a Florida federal court Friday to purposely crashing his airplane.

Marcus Schrenker, 38, appeared before a U.S. district judge for a tentative change of plea hearing, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Pensacola. Schrenker had previously pleaded not guilty to charges of faking a distress call and purposely crashing an airplane.

Schrenker faces up 26 years in prison, $500,000 in fines and at least $38,000 in reimbursements to the Coast Guard, Air Force and other agencies that launched a search for him. Schrenker’s new plea of guilty could reduce his sentence to three to five years.

Schrenker, a financial adviser, also faces two felony counts of securities fraud in Hamilton County, Ind., the result of an ongoing investigation by Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita’s securities division. Schrenker is also the subject of civil action brought by the securities division to recover investor funds.

“Today’s plea means we’re one step close to seeing Marcus Schrenker back in Indiana so we may continue to seek justice on behalf of investors here,” Rokita said in a news release. “I applaud local and federal authorities in Florida and Alabama for preparing a strong case in order to bring the matters in the federal jurisdiction to a conclusion.”

Authorities believe Schrenker tried to fake his death to avoid mounting legal and personal troubles.

Before leaving Indiana, Schrenker was ordered to pay $533,000 to an insurance company in a federal judgment. During that time, Schrenker’s wife, Michelle, filed for divorce, and his stepfather died.

Authorities say Schrenker meticulously planned his escape, driving to Harpersville from Indiana to store a motorcycle and supplies at the U.S. 280 East Mini Warehouse. He then returned to Indiana to pilot a flight to Destin, Fla.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman in Atlanta said Schrenker made a distress call to air traffic comptrollers in Hampton, Ga. Jan. 11 before parachuting out of his plane over Harpersville.

The plane crashed later that day near Milton, Fla. in Santa Rosa County.

Schrenker has been jailed in Florida since Jan. 13, when authorities found him at a Tallahassee-area campsite with his wrists slit in an apparent suicide attempt.