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Hecker associate Steven Leach pleads guilty to 1 count

  • Article by: DEE DePASS
  • Star Tribune
  • October 1, 2010 - 9:09 PM

Former Hecker Automotive executive Steven Leach pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to a single count of conspiracy in connection with schemes to defraud Chrysler Financial out of more than $13 million.

Leach, 55 and the former president of Hecker's Rosedale Leasing/Walden Fleet entity, was indicted in March along with former auto mogul Denny Hecker. He is likely to face between 37 and 46 months in prison and fines of about $250,000, said Judge Joan Ericksen.

Leach's attorney, Robert Sicoli, said he'll ask for less time.

Leach altered his plea to guilty Friday after an agreement with prosecutors earlier in the week. Without that deal, Leach previously faced a trial and potentially up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The government has repeatedly accused him of working with Hecker to defraud Chrysler Financial out of millions of dollars in 2006 and 2007.

U.S. prosecutor Nicole Engisch asked Leach pointed questions Friday about his role in the fraud. He admitted that he followed orders from Hecker in 2007 when he told an employee to cut and paste false information into Hyundai Motor documents, which Leach then faxed to Hecker in Michigan so he could present them to Chrysler Financial. The falsified documents misstated collateral on 4,855 Hyundai vehicles that Chrysler Financial ultimately financed for Hecker. In that case, Chrysler Financial lost about $13 million, Engisch said.

Leach also admitted altering documents that Hecker used to secure loans for a fleet of Suzuki vehicles. In that scheme, Chrysler Financial ultimately lost about $800,000.

Leach, a St. Cloud University graduate, was repeatedly hugged by his teary-eyed parents, wife, siblings and children before and after the hearing. Sentencing is expected in April.

Former Hecker employee James Gustafson pleaded guilty Monday to mail fraud and lying to FBI and IRS investigators. He is expected to face four to six months in prison.

Hecker pleaded guilty to one count of bankruptcy fraud and one count of conspiracy on Sept. 7. He'll face a maximum of 10 years for masterminding the Chrysler fraud and for hiding assets from the court.

In yet another twist to the case, Hecker filed a motion Friday seeking to once again switch attorneys. Hecker said an unidentified third party had stepped forward with retainer fees and that Hecker would like to rehire his original criminal attorney, Bill Mauzy.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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