What A Man Will Do For A Lifestyle

by Bella Rum

A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.
Don Corleone — The Godfather
Did you watch the news last night? It was all over the cable news shows. This fellow, Marcus Schrenker, is under investigation for possible securities violations – stealing other people’s money. When the heat got to hot in the kitchen, he disappeared and wasn’t heard from again until he crashed his plane in a swamp in Florida and parachuted to safety – in hopes that people would assume he was now sleeping with the fishes.

His big mistake – and these guys always make a big mistake – was sending an email to a “friend.” The “friend” informed officials and the rest is history. The authorities found him after he had slashed his wrists, but in time to save his sorry butt.

This was an all too familiar story for us. H had a cousin he was close to when growing up. They vacationed together, spent family holidays together, and had affection for one another.

She grew up to be a very beautiful woman. In the seventies, she married a man H never liked. He thought his affected manner and lifestyle would catch up with him, and hurt his cousin. He was too polished, too slick, too everything. He was handsome, articulate and well educated – looked great on paper – but there was an unctuous quality a
bout him. You could almost imagine him twirling his mustache, if he’d had a mustache. He always had a new scheme, and always had all the right answers.

One of his early ideas was to sell hot tubs, which he insisted we refer to as spas. This was a real sticking point for him.

As the years rolled by, he originated numerous “plans,” and I have to say, they seemed to work.

They prospered and acquired all the outward trappings of a successful life. They moved into the best part of town, had a large, beautiful home, expensive cars, a yacht, enjoyed extravagant vacations. Their children went to the best private schools, and colleges, and drove new cars. It appeared to all onlookers that they were living the “good life.”

In the meantime, H and I moved to another state and lost direct contact with them. We only heard of them through relatives and mutual friends. One day we received a phone call from a friend who asked, “Don’t I recall that H had a cousin who married —– —-?”

Our friend told us that the front page of her morning paper was plastered with his face, and he was on the news. He had gone out on the river the day before. His yacht had been found, but he was missing – suicide was one of the options discussed, but there were others.

H called his cousin. His aunt answered the phone with a guarded tone, even caustic. When she realized it was H, she said they were being bombarded by the press. They were outside his cousin’s home, and then there were the authorities to deal with. There were questions. Among them, did H‘s cousin know all along what was going on?

As the story unfolded – day after day for months – on the front page, and on the news, every detail of the whole sordid mess became public. He had embezzled pension funds – to the tune of millions – for which he was responsible for managing. All those people had lost their pensions so he could have a nice life.

Now it was easier to understand the large lifestyle, a lifestyle that was soon to be dismantled. Everything would go on the chopping block.

As the facts of the case were relentlessly revealed in the press, the city was disgusted at how they had been played for fools for days while waiting for his body to surface, and angry on behalf of nurses whose pensions had been stolen from them. Some of that disgust and anger was directed at H‘s cousin. What did she know, and when did she know it, and hadn’t she benefited from this fraud as much as he had?

They finally found him. His parents put their house up for bail for him, and he went to trial. His lawyer got him a sweetheart deal. He would only serve about a year. It was all set. When his lawyer drove him to turn himself over to the authorities, he jumped out of the car and tried to run away. He still served only about a year, if I remember correctly.

His son had to leave the college he was attending in favor of a state college close to home. His new car was replaced with a more reasonable used car. He never spoke to his father again. The daughter, who was only 12, visited her father while he was incarcerated and continues to have a relationship with him. Everything they owned was confiscated. H‘s cousin filed for divorce immediately.

H asked his cousin if she had known about any of it. She claimed she did not. He believed her. I was never as certain as H. When I think about that, I realize that’s part of the fallout for the families of these creeps. No one is ever sure whether they are victims or collaborators. They’re painted with the same brush. Who can say?

She had worked for a lawyer when she was younger and called him for help. She leaned heavily on him during all of this, and when it was over, she married him. He was wonderful to her, and she had a happy life with him for a short while. After a few years, she learned that she had a brain tumor. She died within a year of learning about it. I don’t believe she had even turned 50 yet. At the funeral, her children were the most pitiful beings I’d ever seen.

So I’m wondering about Marcus Schrenker’s wife. What did she know, and when did she know it, and will anyone ever believe her if she really didn’t know? And what about the children? What will this do to them?

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