'The price of poker': Ex-auto dealer Denny Hecker reflects on lessons learned

After spending more than seven years federal custody for committing bankruptcy and wire fraud, former Minnesota car dealer Denny Hecker is a free man. 

Hecker once owned 26 car dealerships and a car rental agency in Minnesota. However during the recession, his business took a financial hit and he filed for bankruptcy in 2009. 

Prosecutors argued he used tens of millions of dollars from auto lenders to fund his lifestyle. In 2011, he pleaded guilty to bankruptcy and wire fraud. 

The 66-year-old was released earlier this month. In an exclusive interview, Fox 9’s Randy Meier sat down with Hecker to discuss the decisions that led to his imprisonment and what he learned while serving his sentence. For Part 1 of the sit-down interview with Denny Hecker, click here.

Randy Meier: When you woke up in federal prison - and it could have happened on any given day - Did you feel bad for any one individual, group of individuals that you left behind? 

Denny Hecker: Randy, I think you have an omnibus, a lot of people, because there were a lot of people that intangibly got hurt in this situation. Not just the people that work there - the people that did business with us, the friends and colleagues, the family, the school, the trust - all the things that my life affected everybody’s. 

RM: I want to see if I can solve one of the mysteries of Denny Hecker’s time in prison. You were moved around several times, some people thought a lot. The theories of “why” were many, but one that sort of stuck out was, 'Denny Hecker somehow sneaked a phone into prison and he was being penalized for that.' Why were you moved around?

DH: I never had a cell phone. It was never an issue for me because it just isn’t. I was moved around, I believe because of circumstances. I was married to Christi Rowen at the time. She’d gotten out of prison and I believe, they felt that maybe I became a flight risk. And from that day, basically over the period of time, I think I went to eight or nine different locations over the seven and a half years. It was like being on tour. So many different environments, the people - the time went by fast. 

RM: What did a guy like you with your former life miss most about freedom?

DH: The biggest thing I missed was my family. I mean money - people can always make money. And people at home that are just scratching by and trying to make a living, my hats off to you because it’s hard. But when they have the time to enjoy life, they should because if somebody dies and they left all this and they didn’t enjoy their life... In prison, you get a chance to take a look at - with all the free time - what you didn’t do, who you didn’t spend those special moments with, what that one special father-daughter dance meant or where you could have been, or where you should have been. So, those things become much more near and dear to your heart. 

RM: You had those moments?  

DH: Oh sure, yeah.

RM: Let’s talk about your family. Do you have a relationship with them and did you maintain one in prison? 

DH: Yes, very much so. Sidney and Jake and Holly and Kelly. It’s been really close. It’s hard for them. One of the toughest days is when the judge says, “Take Mr. Hecker, bailiff, into custody.” You look back and see your family there and you’re going away. That’s really scary. It’s a surreal moment.

RM: How are you adjusting to freedom now? You’ve been out for a couple weeks, how’s it feel?

DH: Well Randy, three things are really difficult. One, I went from a Blackberry environment to an iPhone 10. The traffic is a lot worse and merging in with the people - it’s different, but it’s exciting.  

RM: How do you get an iPhone 10? How does a guy coming out of prison, how do you get stuff? I mean, just the basics of life, how do you end up with them?

DH: There’s a number of people that have reached out to help. Quite frankly not everybody felt jolted. A lot of people were thankful for what happened to them in the past. There are friends that have reached out. I’ve got a great new opportunity of doing some consulting work.

RM: Let’s talk about what’s next. What is next for you? I guess, let me rephrase - will Minnesotans see you selling cars again?

DH: I’m not going to sell cars. Not because I can’t. It’s because at this point in my life, I have knowledge that I believe is valuable to people who are in business, so they can learn from my mistakes ... People don’t look in the mirror when they’re really successful because there’s nobody around them that wants to drag the empire down and they don’t want to change their own world. So, you start believing your own baloney. But all the people around the circle, they don’t change because it might change them. 

RM: You’re speaking from experience?

DH: Absolutely. 

RM: Part of your sentence was $31 million in restitution. Is that still in play and how do you get out from under something like that, ever? 

DH: Well I believe it was much higher, but now something less than $31 million, but it’s a number. I don’t plan to win the lottery, so it will be a portion of what I earn for the rest of my life. 

RM: And how does that make you feel?

DH: It’s the price of poker.

After all of this, Denny Hecker has a book coming out in September. For more information, click here.