Indiana pilot ordered to pay $12M in Ala. lawsuit

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) - The money troubles of an Indiana financial manager accused of staging a plane crash to fake his own death got worse when an Alabama judge ordered him to pay $12 million in a lawsuit stemming from the sale of an airplane.

A judge ordered Marcus Schrenker, 38, to pay the money Thursday in a lawsuit filed by an Alabama man claiming Schrenker cheated him in the deal.

Barnett Hudson's lawsuit said Schrenker fraudulently sold him a damaged airplane in 2002. In a December letter to Hudson's attorney, Schrenker wrote that he was broke and wouldn't defend himself.

Schrenker was facing more than $9 million in court judgments and potential penalties when authorities say he bailed out of his plane over Alabama last month and let it crash to make it appear he was dead.

According to the fraud lawsuit, Schrenker advertised a plane for sale and said it had never been damaged. However, Hudson later learned the plane had extensive damage from a "hard landing" in 2001.

The suit also alleged Schrenker collected almost $100,000 on an insurance claim from the hard landing, but made no repairs to the plane other than "cosmetic" ones.

In his ruling, Circuit Judge Lawson Little wrote that Schrenker had a legal obligation to report damage to the aircraft before selling it to Hudson, a resident of Dothan in southeast Alabama. Little said the failure could have resulted in an accident that killed Hudson. He imposed $3 million in compensatory damages and $9 million in punitive damages.

"The court takes judicial notice of the fact that Mr. Schrenker recently attempted to fake his own death and deliberately crashed his airplane in the panhandle of Florida; again, putting at risk innocent persons and businesses on the ground," Little wrote.

Little ruled on the same day a judge in Indiana froze the assets of Schrenker and his wife, who has filed for divorce.

Schrenker has been jailed in Florida since his arrest at a Panhandle campground on Jan. 13, two days after authorities say he parachuted from his airplane and left it pilotless over Alabama. The plane went down in the Panhandle near the coast.

Schrenker pleaded not guilty to charges of deliberately crashing the aircraft and making a false distress call.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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