I’ve gotten interested in the trials and tribulations of former Twin Cities auto king Denny Hecker. By sifting through many media sites, I have compiled the following time line detailing the rise and fall of The Heck. This time line is a living thing… new information comes in daily and I’m sure there are also errors or improperly worded points. If you have some major Hecker news or corrections to add, please let me know via comments. I’ll be updating it as new info becomes available. Without further ado…
Laughing In The Face Of Fate:
The Denny Hecker Story
Denny Hecker is born in 1952 and raised in North Minneapolis.
1970: Hecker graduates from Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis and marries his first wife, Judith Martin, the following fall. They stay married for less than two years. He does a brief stint in college and then drops out to sell cars at a local dealership. Cars, it seems, were his destiny.
1973: Hecker marries Sandra Storm (who may or may not be a comic book heroine). They remain married for ten years and have two daughters.
1978: The Heckers become members of Wayzata Country Club, an honor which costs them $20,000.
1979: Hecker buys his first auto dealership â€“ Central Chrysler-Plymouth in Minneapolis.
1982: Hecker’s dealership goes out of business and he loses $200,000, which is really just chump change in light of things to come.
1983: Sandra and Denny divorce after ten years of marriage. Papers they file claim they are $1.2 million in debt. They battle over alimony for the next 14 years. Eventually, Sandra wins lifetime alimony, sort of like opting for the lifetime payments when one wins the lottery instead of taking the one-time lump sum payment.
1983/1984: Hecker buys Minneapolis Auto Auction with a $50,000 loan from friend Walter Bush.
1984: Hecker marries his third wife, Marsha Drapes. If â€œSandra Stormâ€ sounds like a comic book heroine, â€œMarsha Drapesâ€ sounds like Sandraâ€™s alter-ego, a secretary in an insurance agency secretly in love with Captain Galaxy.
1986: General Motors buys the Auto Auction and Hecker and Bush start buying auto dealerships and also expand into leasing.
Early 1990s: Hecker buys out partner Walter Bush.
1993: Hecker divorces Marsha. They had no children together. She disappears into the ether.
1994: Hecker marries his fourth wife, Tamitha Pownall. She is 27; he is 42. They will have two children together, a son and a daughter. They will also have five vacation homes (including one in Aspen, Colorado and San Jose del Cabo in Mexico), a 17,000-square-foot home in on Mooney Lake in Medina that features an 11 car garage, outdoor and indoor pools, tennis courts and a guesthouse. Oh, and an 11,438 square-foot home on Cross Lake valued at between $7.8 and $11.8 million.
2002/2003: Hecker is sued by two of his former dealership managers â€“ Patrick Ringold (former executive manager at Southview Chevrolet in Inver Grove Heights) and Tom Palme (general manager at Heckerâ€™s Forest Lake Chrysler Plymouth). Both cases settle out of court. The men claim they did not receive promised compensation because Hecker manipulated the books and reduced the value of their dealerships on paper. Their bonuses were tied to the net profits of the dealerships they ran.
2003: Hecker buys lakeside property in Cross Lake, Minnesota. In 2005, he tears down the existing house and builds a new one with five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a theater, outdoor pool, guesthouses and three docks with room for ten boats to dock. Family and friends refer to it as â€œThe Compound.â€
Later, Hecker will request that this property be listed as his primary residence despite the fact that he does not live there. According to The Pioneer Press, the estate is valued at somewhere between $7.8 million and $11.8 million and is owned by a Hecker limited liability company called Jacob Holdings of Crosslake LLC. In turn, that company is owned by Jacob Properties of Minnesota LLC. Hecker owns 91 percent of that parent company; Rosedale Dodge Inc., which is wholly owned by Hecker, owns 5 percent; and trust funds for Hecker’s four children own the remainder.
2004: In January, Hecker launches Denny Hecker Mortgage and plans to expand into land title service, land development and other real estate ventures. His face is plastered all over buses and billboards.
Hecker rises to third-largest auto dealer in the Twin Cities, claiming total annual sales of $5 billion. However, his companies are all private so this figure canâ€™t be verified.
Throughout the year, Hecker flirts with the idea of buying part of the Minnesota Vikings. He does invest in theÂ Baja Fresh Mexican Grill chain and eventually in Bellanotte restaurant in downtown Minneapolis (now closed) and Seven Sushi & Steakhouse (in bankruptcy).
In December, Hecker reaches an out-of-court settlement with a former female employee who sued two of his auto dealerships for sexual harassment.
2005: Hecker obtains ownership interest in Payless rental car locations in Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis and Fort Lauderdale.
2006: Hecker buys San Antonio Advantage Rent-A-Car. Shortly after, Chrysler Financial extends Hecker’s revolving line of credit to $660 million so he can purchase cars for his Rosedale Dodge dealership to sell or lease. Then Chrysler Financial extends Hecker a $50 million personal loan.
2007: In October, Hecker signs $42 million note with Chrysler Financial which makes all his property subject to cross-collateralizing and cross-defaulting. This means that a single default to any lender would allow Chrysler to foreclose on all properties. All of Hecker’s property is pledged as collateral against personally guaranteed debt. Later it comes out that he neglected, or forgot, to tell this toÂ Tamitha.
In November, Hecker asks Chrysler Financial to fund the purchase of 5,000 vehicles from Hyundai, offering up two letters purporting to be from Hyundai (later it is determined that these letters has forged signatures). Chrysler OK’s the financing of 4,257 vehicles.
In late 2007, Hecker becomes romantically involved with girlfriend Christi Rowan, who worked in advertising at KARE-TV. Hecker is still married to Tamitha.
April: Tamitha and Denny start divorce proceedings. Three is, after all, a crowd.
May: Hecker reportedly gives a young woman named Jessica Robb a $154,000 ring. Later, there is speculation that he also gave her money prior to his June 4, 2009 bankruptcy filing and that she may be subpoenaed. The connection between Jessica Robb and Denny Hecker remains mysterious. She is a young woman not too far out of college. Denny is in his late-50s and resembles an albino crow more and more with each passing day.
Summer: Hecker falls behind on payments to his $660 million revolving credit with Chrysler Financial, on real estate loans and on the Hyundai vehicle purchases.
October: Tamitha and Denny stop divorce proceedings. Shortly after this, Hecker sues Chrysler Financial Services for pulling his line of credit.
November 21: Hecker announces the closing of six of his dealerships and the sale of three others.
December 3: Hecker crashes his SUV into a pole near his home in Medina. He spends two days in the hospital.Â Analysis of Hecker’s blood reveals a mixture of prescription drugs: three painkillers, a stimulant, an anti-anxiety medication and the sleeping pill Ambien. (Hecker’s explanation for the Ambien is that he left a meeting at roughly 9:30 and took the Ambien before driving home, thinking it wouldn’t kick in before he got there anyway). He is issued a DUI charge.
Later it is revealed that Hecker had $100,000 in the trunk of the car that night. Police photos show Tamitha Hecker arriving on the scene of the crash and police say she took the money home with her. Hecker’s criminal defense attorney claims that Hecker was, â€œtransferring cash from one safe to anotherâ€ at the time of the accident.
December: Advantage Rent-A-Car files for bankruptcy protection. Later, a civil complaint accusing Hecker of civil conspiracy, theft and unjust enrichment in the operations of Advantage and several other auto leasing businesses will be filed. The complaint alleges that Hecker created a scheme to funnel over $110 million from Advantage and another auto leasing business into his other businesses. As a result, Advantage did not have enough money to cover their expenses.
January 23: Chrysler Financial files a lawsuit to collect the entire amount owed to them by Hecker – $550 million. Shortly after, Ford, General Motors and Hyundai sue Hecker for $107 million in combined loan defaults.
April: Judge Robert Kressel votes in favor of Chrysler Financial. Hecker is on the hook for repayment of $550 million. Hecker sells off more dealerships.
June 4: Hecker files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, claiming $767 million in personal debt against $18.5 million in assets. In the months ahead, it will be difficult to ascertain just what his assets are due to the fact that he has ownership interest in an interconnected maze of 236 private companies (LLC’s) and is hiding nuts away like a squirrel anticipating a long, hard winter ahead.
June 17: Agents from the MN State Patrol, DEA and the IRS search Hecker’s headquarters in St. Louis Park and several of his car dealerships.
June 25: Tamitha and Denny start divorce proceedings for the fourth time.
Also in June, Hecker (ever the optimist) forms New Dimension Advisors for the purpose of consulting for auto businesses. Just who would hire him for his expertise is a mystery.
July 24: Hecker pleads guilty to a misdemeanor careless driving charge for his one-vehicle car crash. His DUI is dropped.
July 30: The FBI takes a turn searching Hecker’s headquarters.
August 19: Some of Hecker’s belongings are up for sale in a bankruptcy estate sale. Items include seven snowmobiles, five jet skis, two Vespa scooters, pontoon boats and a yacht trailer. Other items, including Hecker’s collection of watches and a gold ring valued at $24,000 go up for sale later in the year.
October: The IRS joins the conga line of Hecker’s creditors, citing $3.5 million in unpaid income taxes, penalties and fees.
November 25: Judge Jay Quam orders Hecker to pay $7,500 per month to Tamitha Hecker for child and spousal support despite his protestations that he can’t afford it. His case is greatly weakened after it becomes known that Hecker’s personal expenses per month total $24,500 and he provides girlfriend Christi Rowan with roughly $30,000 per month.
December 17: It was a long road, but Hecker is finally divorced from Tamitha Hecker.
February 10: Hecker is indicted on charges of fraud in a multi-million dollar loan scheme for cars. He also allegedly failed to pay Minnesota sales tax on license plates, titles, registration and other fees AND did not pay off old loans he acquired from customers when they bought new cars. One count of conspiracy, five counts of wire fraud and one count money laundering for steering $500,000 in business funds into his personal bank accounts. Bail is set at $25,000 and he is ordered to surrender his passport, wear an electronic monitoring device and abide by a curfew.
February 17: Bankruptcy judge Robert Kressel orders Hecker to repay $82 million to Chrysler Financial for business and personal loans despite the fact that Hecker has declared bankruptcy because Hecker lied to the court and disobeyed court orders to reveal assets. A bankruptcy trustee also has petitioned the court not to forgive the rest of Hecker’s debt because he allegedly hid assets from the court with the help of his girlfriend Christi Rowan, former employee James Gustafson, and his former in-law Bill Prohofsky.
Just months before declaring bankruptcy, Hecker reportedly bought a $60,000 fur coat and a pair of $30,000 guard dogs for Rowan.
Early March: Judge Jay Quam denies Hecker’s request to withdraw $100,000 from a retirement fund in order to pay his lawyers. Hecker had only recently restored the money to his 401(K) after liquidating itÂ without permission to protect it from his divorce settlement.
March 3: Bill Prohofsky, Hecker’s friend, employee and former father-in-law,Â is found in a parked car in Medina with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
March 4: Prohofsky dies at the hospital. Prohofsky was accused of helping Hecker hide $81,000 from creditors in his capacity as â€œindependent contractor running errands for Hecker starting in 2008 into late 2009,â€ according to the Star Tribune. Prohofsky held $81,557 of Hecker’s money in his own Wells Fargo Bank account and had admitted in the bankruptcy case that he paid Hecker’s bills with it last year.
Prohofsky came onboard with Hecker just as Hecker was starting to close or sell off some of his car dealerships and often handled calls from angry vendors and bill collectors.
March 5: Defense attorneys Marsh Halberg and Bill Mauzy petition the court to resign as Hecker’s defense attorneys because Hecker has no money left to pay them.
March 9: A federal grand jury adds more criminal charges to the mounting pile. Ten counts of bankruptcy fraud for failing to disclose all assets, eight counts of wire fraud (stemming from an alleged scheme to defraud multiple lenders in financing a purchase of Suzuki vehicles). Over in family court, Bill Skolnick withdraws as Hecker’s divorce lawyer because he hasn’t been paid. Sandra Hecker, (remember her?), is suing Hecker for unpaid alimony totaling just over $8,000. Mama wants to be PAID!
March 10: A federal grand jury charges Hecker and his former executive Steven Leach with additional crimes â€“ eight counts of wire fraud, ten counts of bankruptcy fraud for concealing boats, cars, jewelry, club memberships, cash and other assets from the court. Charges include a second instance of fraudulently altering a document to obtain loans.
March 11: Authorities disclose that they discovered a note, documents and a safe deposit box key that relate to Hecker in Prohofskyâ€™s car after Prohofsky fatally shot himself. The note and documents reveal that Prohofsky was planning on helping the FBI in their case against Hecker. The car also contained a laptop and a briefcase of documents that appeared to relate to Heckerâ€™s concealment of assets. The note mentioned a safe deposit box investigators had earlier questioned Prohofsky about. When FBI agents searched one of the boxes at a Wells Fargo branch they found an envelope with $10,000 in cash labeled “2009 Money for Taxes,” e-mails and other documents related to Hecker and his bankruptcy case.
March 12: Hot off the presses… Hecker agrees to a settlement and will not be forgiven what remains of the $767 million he owes creditors. Trustee Randall Seaver will be able to pursue Hecker’s assets in order to pay back his many, many creditors. But there’s always an upside to everything: Christi Rowan gets to keep the $30,000 German Shepherd guard dog (reports seem to vary on whether it was one dog or a pair of them). I’ve got a German Shepherd mix that I got for about $200 and she attacks pizza delivery guys just fine… I think maybe they overpaid.
According to the Star Tribune, the settlement means all of Hecker’s creditors will retain their claims against him, and can pursue his assets wherever they can find them. So, uh, if they can find more envelopes of cash in bank boxes or in overseas accounts or figure out how to get their hands on some of that merch Hecker bought Rowan, they get the cash! It’s like a big Bankruptcy Scavenger Hunt.
March 16: DENNY SITING AT COSTCO!!!
March 17: Hecker is ordered to pay ex-wife Sandra the $8,000 he owes her in unpaid alimony by the end of this month or prove he’s too poor to pay. Failure to do one or the other means he faces 90 days in jail. Predictably, Hecker says he does not have the money. His friends (yes, somehow he still has some) had to poolÂ money in order to help him retain Bill Mauzy as his lawyer. And according to KARE-11 News, last month Hecker “narrowly avoided jail time when an unknown donor gave him $125,000 to comply with a court order that he replace money he had taken from a retirement account.” If you’ll recall, he raided this account prior to his divorce from fourth wife, Tamitha, so it wouldn’t be taken into account during their divorce settlement.
Maybe a 90-day stay in jail would be a good practice run for the prison time he’s surely facing on his 25 criminal charges.
March 19: From City Pages: New court documents show that while in bankruptcy, Hecker illegally withdrew $75,000 from his children’s trust funds to buy back the Medina house he shares with Christi Rowan… According to lawyers overseeing Hecker’s assets during his bankruptcy, Hecker first asked to borrow from his kids’ trust funds last November, but the trustee at the time refused. A month later, that trustee was replaced by Hecker’s former inlaw, William Prohofsky. Hecker asked again, and on December 16 Prohofsky wired $75,000 from the trusts to Hecker’s lawyer, William Skolnick.”
Well, you have to give Hecker some credit for working the system. Don’t like the answer your bank trustee gives you? Install your friend/employee/former father-in-law to the position and ask again. Bingo.
The court was led to believe that the check was from Hecker’s friend Ralph Thomas (his name was written on the memo line of check, something I didn’t think ever really held any water. I could write a check to the electric company and put “for underwear” on the memo line if I wanted to) and that Thomas was taking over Hecker’s interest in the Medina home. According to the Star Tribune, “The bankruptcy trustee transferred its interest in the property to Thomas, and gave the deed to Skolnick, though the house remains in Hecker’s name.”
What will tomorrow bring? Be sure to check back in on The Hecker Timeline
Sidenote: A Person Of Interest
Christi Rowan, Hecker’s girlfriend of several years, continues to stand by her man. Both are expected to be represented in court by public defenders given their claims of no money. Although she remains a shadowy figure, Mary Jo Webster of The Pioneer Press provided some great background info on Rowan in an article in January of this year.
Rowan was born Christi Westmoreland and was raised in Texas before leaving to attend Drake College in Iowa from 1991 to 1997. In 2000, while living in Arizona, Rowan was charged with two counts of felony theft for stealing $14,000 in cash from… wait for it… the CAR DEALERSHIP where she worked. (So maybe this is why she understands and sympathizes with Denny in ways that others do not).
She received two years probation and was ordered to pay restitution to the dealership. She petitioned to be able to leave Arizona to follow her new husband, Brent Rowan, to Minnesota. They had a child together and divorced in October 2008. (I’d like to call attention to the timeline at this point, 2007, when Hecker and Rowan became romantically involved.)
Rowan worked at KARE-11 TV in advertising. She told MinnPost.com that she and Hecker met when they were both working onÂ sports anchor Randy Shaver’s annual cancer-research golf event about ten years ago. Immediately following her divorce, Rowan lived in the Whitney Hotel in Minneapolis until moving into Hecker’s former home in Medina with her two children. She quit her job at KARE-11 in July 2008 to “focus on her photography business.”
Bankruptcy trustee Randall Seaver has filed orders seeking KARE-11 employment records for Rowan. There was also a recent court dust-up over the fact that Rowan was living in Hecker’s house without paying any rent, which was apparently part of the deal on paper. A friend of Hecker’s stepped up to pay $75,000 to settle the conflict and enable Rowan and her kids to keep living there. This is all despite several vacations Hecker and Rowan the their children took together over the course of the past year, most notably to Hawaii.
According to the Pioneer Press article, “Should Rowan become Hecker’s fifth wife, she would be shielded from testifying against her spouse without his consent, said Roseville bankruptcy and divorce lawyer Barbara May.”
For a very, very brief period of time, Rowan tweeted on Twitter as 28CR. Alas, the account has been unused for some time.
Ready for more Hecker? Check out Part II: Oh, The Drama.