Denny Hecker's spectacular three-year saga will end next month when the 58-year-old onetime auto giant is sentenced to federal prison Feb. 11 on the two fraud charges to which he pleaded guilty last fall.
Hecker co-defendant and former auto dealership executive Steven Leach, 55, will be sentenced in federal court on Feb. 8. James Gustafson of Maple Grove, 49, who was a Hecker employee for 30 years, will be sentenced Feb. 3.
Hecker and Leach were indicted nearly a year ago for doctoring paperwork in a 2007 scheme that defrauded Chrysler Financial out of more than $80 million in loans. Hyundai, Suzuki, U.S. Bank and other lenders also were defrauded.
Hecker faces up to 10 years in prison and up to $30 million in restitution to victims. Prosecutors have asked the court to give Hecker the maximum sentence allowed because of the hubris he repeatedly displayed in committing crimes after pleading guilty.
Leach, of Burnsville, faces up to 46 months in federal prison and up to $16.2 million in restitution for his role in the auto loan schemes. Prosecutors have recommended 37 months, noting that Leach was not the ringleader.
Gustafson, who began working for Hecker when he was 17 years old, faces up to six months of prison time for preparing a fake auto title for Hecker's Cadillac Escalade and ushering the paperwork through the state. For a time, the fraud helped Hecker hide assets from Chrysler Financial and the bankruptcy court.
Hecker, Leach and Gustafson will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen. Of the three men, only Hecker has been jailed. Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis placed Hecker in the Sherburne County jail in October after finding that he had lied to the court and failed to account for how he spent nearly $124,000 in ill-gotten insurance money last summer.
Next month's sentencings will nearly close the book on a multi-chaptered saga that began nearly 2 1/2 years ago when the overleveraged Hecker lost his line of credit from Chrysler Financial and his auto empire began spiraling into ruin. In the end, he shut or lost 26 dealerships and sent nearly 3,000 workers to the unemployment lines.
One strand of Hecker's complicated tale remains. Hecker's girlfriend, Christi Rowan, has yet to learn when she will be sentenced for her role in helping Hecker hide assets from the bankruptcy court and lying to a dealer about her income in order to procure a loan for a 2008 Land Rover. Rowan pleaded guilty in April to bank fraud and bankruptcy fraud.
Rowan, who has lived with Hecker for nearly two years, is to be evicted from his foreclosed Medina home on Feb. 1.
Dee DePass • 612-673-7725