A Hennepin County judge compared Denny Hecker's decision-making to that of Tiger Woods and found the former auto dealer in contempt Thursday, sentencing him to 90 days in jail unless he coughs up just over $125,000 to replace money he spent without permission in September during his bitter divorce.

District Judge Jay Quam gave Hecker -- who filed for bankruptcy protection in June -- 30 days to repay the money that he cashed out of a 401(k) account without the approval of the court or his now-former wife, Tamitha.

Quam also revoked Hecker's authority to tap a separate Individual Retirement Account at the Swiss bank UBS AG without court approval.

The judge's decision marked a new low for Hecker, who once presided over 26 dealerships, a national car rental business and large auto fleet firm, but now finds himself facing the threat of jail time on top of financial ruin.

In his decision, Quam called the 401(k) money "marital property" that was protected under Minnesota law. He said it was "no small matter" that Hecker unilaterally emptied the entire account and spent the money "in the span of a little more than a month ... without consulting Ms. Hecker or me."

Quam compared the actions of Hecker, whose personal property included dozens of golf clubs of all varieties until they were sold last year in a court-ordered auction, to those of Woods, whose sexual liaisons have become fodder for late-night comedians.

"In doing the wrong thing in the wrong way and getting caught doing it, Mr. Hecker's actions were much more similar to those of Mr. Woods. First, both took deliberate actions," Quam said. "Secondly, both Mr. Woods and Mr. Hecker knew, or certainly should have known, the actions they were taking were wrong.

"At the most basic level, it is clear that Mr. Hecker saw an opportunity to grab money to fund his unrealistically high lifestyle and he took that opportunity. Essentially Mr. Hecker testified that he learned that the [401(k)] account was exempt from the reach of the bankruptcy estate and his creditors and being desperate for cash, he called a telephone number, filled out a form, got the cash and spent it. He claimed it did not occur to him that he couldn't liquidate the account."

The judge has noted the bankrupt Hecker's exotic lifestyle before, citing his vacations and spending on "romantic partner" Christi Rowan. In November, Quam ordered Hecker to temporarily pay Tamitha $7,500 a month in maintenance and to give the court his full financial information.

Hecker attorney Bill Skolnick said Hecker already agreed last month to replenish the 401(k) account.

Asked if he was surprised by the judge's contempt ruling and threat of jail, Skolnick said, "Yes, only in the sense that it sounds quite dramatic. But, no, in the sense that the court is looking for compliance, and that is what Mr. Hecker will do. He is going to comply as he should."

In a hearing last month before Quam granted the Heckers' divorce, Denny Hecker apologized for cashing out the 401(k). Hecker said he needed money because he is battling 11 lawsuits. Hecker's bankruptcy petition claims $767 million in debt and $18.5 million in assets. His lenders have accused Hecker of fraudulently securing loans by using false information, a charge Hecker denies.

Hecker is also the subject of a federal grand jury investigation into his business practices.

On Wednesday, federal bankruptcy Judge Robert Kressel accused Hecker of stalling against Chrysler Financial -- one of the companies suing him -- and ordered him to turn over business documents to Chrysler within two weeks.

Quam ordered Hecker to pay attorneys fees in the divorce case within 10 days and forbade Hecker and his ex-wife from making disparaging statements about one another. He chastised Hecker for issuing mean-spirited press releases and statements about Tamitha, noting that they may have been hurtful to the couple's two minor children.

Quam threatened further fines and jail time if Hecker fails to abide by his orders in the future.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725