Auto dealer Denny Hecker faces federal fraud chargesby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio,
Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Former Twin Cities automobile czar Denny Hecker has his first court appearance Thursday afternoon following his indictment Wednesday on federal conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering charges.
Federal prosecutors allege Hecker schemed to defraud lenders out of millions of dollars. The 57-year-old Hecker was one of Minnesota's biggest car and truck dealers before his businesses collapsed and he ended up filing for bankruptcy.
The indictment doesn't contain any new revelations about Hecker. The allegations include ripping off Chrysler Financial and other lenders, hiding assets from the bankruptcy court, conspiring to defraud business partners and customers, not giving the state sales tax money, and title and license fees that customers paid to Hecker's dealerships.
But now Hecker has the U.S. Department of Justice after him. These are the first criminal charges against Hecker. The U.S. Attorney has decided he wants to nail Hecker in court and put him in jail, probably for the rest of his life.
If convicted, Hecker faces up to 20 years in prison for each count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 20 years on each count of wire fraud. Hecker also faces 10 years in prison if convicted of money laundering.
Prosecutors charge that Hecker and a former executive who worked for Hecker gave fraudulent documents to Chrysler Financial to obtain $80 million in financing. The money was for the purchase of 5,000 vehicles from Hyundai Motor America.
Allegedly, Chrysler Financial lost over $10 million in the deal.
The U.S. Attorney's office charges Hecker and others covered up the fraud and Hecker filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying Chrysler and other lenders.
The indictment also states Hecker and fellow conspirators lied to or misled U.S. Bank and other lenders to obtain millions of dollars in loans. The feds allege Hecker and his underlings kept the money from vehicle sales instead of paying off lenders who were owed money on the vehicles.
Prosecutors also charged Hecker and others with keeping sales tax, title and license payments that should have been delivered to the State of Minnesota.
The U.S. Attorney's Office wouldn't comment on the indictment. A spokeswoman said the office won't have anything to say until the case has been resolved, either through a plea or trial.
Hecker's attorney could not be reached for comment. He has maintained Hecker is innocent.
When he filed for bankruptcy last year, Hecker reported assets of about $18.5 million and liabilities of about $770 million, but federal prosecutors charge Hecker has concealed wealth and is continuing to live what they say is an extravagant lifestyle.
Elizabeth Dunbar is a general assignment reporter for MPR News.