Denny Hecker's ostensible wife, Christi Rowan, got 14 months in prison and a stern rebuke Tuesday from U.S. District Court Judge Joan Ericksen, who said the maximum sentence was necessary ''to prevent you from committing more crimes, and it maximizes the chances that you could acquire some respect for the law."
Rowan, who had pleaded guilty to fraud and theft charges, also was ordered to pay $36,098.15 in restitution after stealing gift cards from the FBI and money from Hecker's bankruptcy estate. She will be under supervised release for five years after she gets out of jail.
Tuesday's sentencing marked the end of a 2 1/2-year saga of greed, fraud and theft that brought down the auto mogul's empire and eventually landed Hecker, 58, in prison. Also sentenced to prison was Steven Leach, 55, a former senior executive in the Hecker organization.
When asked by the judge if she had anything to say, Rowan, 37, calmly declined. Dressed in a white-bowed blouse, black skirt, black tights and black flats, Rowan continued to stare straight ahead. Meanwhile, an emotional scene unfolded in the back of the courtroom as Rowan's teenage daughter sobbed into her nanny's shoulder, while other friends and family members wiped their eyes.
After the sentencing Ericksen cleared the courtroom and gave Rowan 15 minutes to say goodbye to her son, 6, and daughter, 14.
Rowan initially faced just six months in jail after pleading guilty in April to lying under oath, on a W-2 form and on an auto loan application that let Rowan buy a Range Rover for Hecker before his June 2009 bankruptcy filing. Rowan could have been sentenced to just probation or six months in jail.
But that changed abruptly last month after prosecutors learned Rowan violated a prior court order by taking nearly $25,000 in secret bank funds, stock dividend checks and gift cards that Hecker hid from the bankruptcy court.
Rowan had been ordered not to touch any of Hecker's money because it belonged to the bankruptcy estate being liquidated for creditors. Rowan didn't listen.
Judge Ericksen told Rowan it was "mind-boggling that someone would take money that was in the custody of the court and the FBI. ... It does kind of take your breath away." In handing down the maximum sentence allowed by the guidelines, Ericksen cited the "serious and brazen" nature of Rowan's behavior.
Defense attorney Janet Newberg had requested an eight-month sentence and asked the judge to consider that Rowan is a good mother to two minor children. The judge acknowledged that and noted that Rowan's family and friends sent letters to the court insisting Rowan would never lie.
But Ericksen was not convinced and proceeded to detail a troubling history. Of the four Hecker co-defendants to face criminal charges, only Rowan had a prior felony -- for embezzlement in 2000 -- she said.
The judge also cited Rowan's lies to a probation officer, her creation of a fake and sexualized Facebook page depicting one of Hecker's ex-girlfriends and her attempt to evict and gain access to the apartment of another ex-girlfriend.
"The theme [of the letters] that you are incapable of lying ... is an ironic position to take, considering what we have seen here," Ericksen said.
She ordered that Rowan be barred from ever serving as a financial fiduciary, except with regard to her two minor children. The judge also stripped Rowan of the power-of-attorney rights Hecker had granted her in October after he was jailed.
'Guided ... by greed'
After the hearing, prosecutor Nancy Brasel said that a "significant part of the case against Mr. Hecker was the hiding of assets in the bankruptcy court. ... Ms. Rowan was not guided by her own sense of loyalty but by greed.''
The government said Rowan knew she was committing a crime when she spent $9,497 in American Express gift cards that Hecker obtained illegally and hid in a lock box in his Medina home. In October, Chief Judge Michael Davis ordered the gift cards to be turned over to the FBI for liquidation.
Rowan, living in Hecker's Medina house at the time, turned over some of the gift cards but held back others from the FBI. She then reported some of the cards lost, got replacements and went shopping. She spent a combined $9,497 at the Jon Charles Salon, Nordstrom, Belladerm Medspa, the Bumbershute store, Bluebird Boutique, Walgreens and CVS.
Going forward, Rowan must repay at least $100 a month until the full $36,098.15 is restored to victims.
The judge noted that the restitution included $7,727.80 in illegal gift card purchases, about $9,000 for the Hecker bank funds Rowan stole from the bankruptcy estate and $19,370.35 for the Endura Federal Credit union that loaned Rowan money for the Range Rover.
After the hearing, U.S. marshals returned Rowan to the Sherburne County jail, where she has been held since her arrest Feb. 23. Newberg asked the judge to recommend that Rowan serve her sentence at a federal prison in Greenville, Ill., about 45 miles east of St. Louis.
Rowan, who married the incarcerated Hecker Feb. 22 during an over-the-phone ceremony, is unlikely to see the former auto magnate any time soon. Hecker is serving a 10-year prison sentence for bankruptcy fraud and defrauding auto lenders out of more than $30 million.