Behind Bars: Denny Hecker’s Life In Prison

By Esme Murphy, WCCO-TV

DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO) — It has been more than two months since fallen auto mogul Denny Hecker went to live at what will be his home for at least the next eight years — the Federal Prison Camp in Duluth, Minn.

Hecker is one of nearly a thousand inmates at the facility that Forbes Magazine once rated as one of the best prisons to do time in.

Twenty-four months ago, Hecker was living in a 20,000-square-foot Medina mansion with indoor and outdoor pools.

On March 29, reporter Esme Murphy drove up to see Hecker’s home — at the Federal Prison Camp.

She met with Hecker in the jail’s visiting area. Hecker was dressed in surplus army fatigues from the 1960s, the uniform of all inmates.

Hecker said he sometimes has a difficult time believing he is in prison.

“Sometimes, I feel like I am playing myself in a movie,” he said.

He described a life that to some might not sound so bad. He works out every day with weights in a fully-equipped prison gym. He says the food is good. There is a salad bar and at times fresh cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

There is a prison movie theater he can go to. The former auto mogul sleeps in a bunk bed in a room with three other men in a residential dorm-like building.

The federal minimum-security prison camp was actually Hecker’s first choice on where he would serve his prison sentence but an inmate doesn’t get to decide — it’s up to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Hecker once owned hundreds of luxury brand watches. Now he said dealing with time is his biggest struggle. When he was running an empire he said, “the days would fly by filled with meetings and phone calls.”

Now he said “the minutes are like hours, the hours like days.” Sometimes he spends hours looking at the planes fly overhead to the nearby Air Force base.

In prison, he had his first job interview in more than 30 years. He wanted to teach business to other inmates, instead he was assigned to wash floors.

“I did wrong, but I don’t deserve 10 years,” he said.

Hecker said his greatest regret is for his family, for his new wife Christi Rowan-Hecker — who is serving time in an Illinois prison — and for his two minor children, ages 16 and 10.

Hecker, whose car dealerships once had $6.8 billion in annual revenues, seems amazed at times at his fall.

“I used to have more money than anyone can imagine. I really used to,” he said.

Hecker is 58. He is serving a 10-year sentence. With good behavior, he is scheduled to be released on July 4, 2019.

More from Esme Murphy
  • Sherry

    I was appalled to see and hear that inmates of this prison are wearing Army fatigues surplus or not. Criminals should not be wearing any type of military uniforms. I cannot believe that this is something that a Federal Prison would approve. Shame on them that allow this. What a disgrace to our service men and women!!! He is a convicted criminal and should be treated as such, bright orange jumpsuit or better yet, a black and white stripe one!!

    • Rosalie Hansen

      10% of the prison population in America are Vets. That is more of a disgrace, then the surplus fatigues.

    • gtV

      It’s really no disgrace for Hecker wearing 1960’s Army surplus fatigues. In fact, some prisons around the USA, whether State, Federal or Military, use old military surplus clothing as a cost saving measure. Also, it saves you, the US taxpayer, money. Don’t forget, these surplus fatigues are from the Viet Nam war era and do not meet present day military specifications for fatigues[aka BDU’s].

      As a veteran, I could care less what military surplus Hecker wears except say that fatigue blouses should be marked with a “P” on the back side. Just like military prisons. Why pay more for new bright orange jumpsuits or black-&-white striped uniforms. Hecker isn’t worth that style; Army surplus is just fine.

    • Charlie

      Sherry, Get over it already… the price is right and I am sure it is degrading enough… should we make them run around in pink underwear? I doubt there is any mistaken tie to any military branch.

  • skier rick

    Read Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault. Follow that with Consiliance by E.O. Wilson. If criminology and prisons worked for curbing crime we’d have no crime by now. Instead, we manufacture crimes to keep ourselves intolerant, afraid and deluded and people employed at huge cost both financial and emotional. Read the books.

    • Chris

      What is the color of the sky in your world?

      I agree that it is big business, but he is still a criminal and what do you suggest is done with/to him?

      We should be able to put these clowns up for about 50 cents per day…

      Do it more like that sheriff in AZ, as that is more appropriate!

      • Yavuz

        Hello. I’ve added the cnmoemt reply feature to my blog. However, the issue I’m having is on my other pages that you can create through blogger, when the cnmoemt feature is set to enable for them and click on “reply” it brings up a “We’re sorry, but we were unable to complete your request.” message.By any chance could you tell me what I am doing wrong? I mean it’s working properly on the main blog page. But doesn’t work properly on the other pages, for example about me, and etc.Any help with this would be highly appreciated. Thank you!!

  • Victim Du Jour

    He filed a lawsuit against bankers, and then the government raided his home and business. Now he is in Prison for ten years, and so is his wife.

    And the Bankers probably aided and abetted his crooked dealings.

    Something seems disturbing about the Government raiding you after filing a lawsuit against the banking system.

    • more than meets the eye

      Dealing with the mafia in all cases.
      Why the anxiety?

    • no shock at all

      Crooks all around you.

  • Victim du jour

    He got steamrolled before having a chance to make a case against the banking system.

    The bank got their bail-out from the government PLUS all Denny Heckers money and property.

    Sounds like a sweet deal to me.

    • Chuck

      Give us a break already…

      He had milked the system to his benefit and then cries when it is revealed!

      I may not love bankers either, but he willingly played their games and lost…

      He can sit for a while, since he has been playing big shot all these years!

  • Dan

    This guy was a crook who cost many good people honest jobs. Now he is still iving better than many of the people he wronged. The fact that the banking industry is criminal as well in no way excuses his own criminal behavior. I think he dserves more time in a less pleasant setting.

    • Rosalie Hansen

      Federal Prison is not about Rehab, or Disciplines. It is about Time Out of Society, then after 5 – 50 years or so, then you are put back into society. It’s a big business, of cheap labor, and warehousing. Wake up people.

      • aey

        skylarportland on February 11, 2010 Exactly. Even if you go tgourhh consumer credit counseling, your credit is still harmed almost as bad ( consumer credit is just a baby step up from bankruptcy ), BUT you’re having to pay a couple hundred $ usually, every month, and that mark still stays on your credit, which harms if you should need to finance a vehicle, home, etc. Loans tend to use your debt/income ratio now, so filing bankruptcy loosens this ratio up, thereby increasing your loan options if you chose to.

    • Charlie

      YES, you nailed that one… Thanks.

  • Greg

    He wanted to teach business to other inmates.


    • Slim

      Yeah, that is a good one!!!

      Seams like the prison managers thought it was a joke too!

      Kind of like Bernie Madoff requesting the same… probably won’t fly either.

  • Kelly

    Why is this news??? I don’t care what Denny Hecker does with his time in jail.

    • Chris

      Kelly, Then do not read it… it is that simple, because we do not care what you think either… I believe it is news, considering how he impacted our community! People quickly forget the damage that he caused by his irresponsibility, so this is a good reminder! We do not like to hear it, but it is news…

  • MN Mom

    Wow, a fully equiped gym, movie theatre, fresh rolls and a salad bar all at no cost to him?? Damn, sign me up too! Sounds a hell of a lot better than working my tail to the bone day in and day out, just to keep my head above water.

  • Sheila

    I am in the auto industry and I have come in contact with a lot of people who are the direct victims of his thieving. These customers bought a car from his dealership and they traded in a vehicle that was never paid off. The taxes from the new purchase were never paid either. So, they now have a charge off auto on their credit from the trade issue, and issues with the DMV and State of Mn for unpaid tax on their purchase. Needless to say, their credit is a wreck and they cannot buy another car or anything else with credit. They are the victims here–not Hecker. There are also plenty of others who should be in there with him however!!

  • RachelClaire

    I fully agree. He got off very easy only having ten (stated) years for what he did. As it is, it sounds like he has it pretty good where he is. More than I can say for myself. I can’t remember the last time I could afford to see a movie.

  • Them

    Denny this is not a pity party .You should be doing hard time not time in a country club! Now get back to work and scrub those floors until you can see your reflection!!!!

  • Vacation

    In a way he makes it sound like he is on vacation – no meetings, phone calls, and whatever else. It is relaxing to watch planes fly by.

  • MARK


  • texas jeff

    Hopefully he gets it like jeffrey daumer beat to death with his own mop handle.

  • Boy George

    He’ll leave prison in 8 years as a Gay Man

  • carsntrucks

    Hecker was a wheeler dealer and made things happen….People that worked for him made good money and then bad mouth him when his empire crumbles. He did nothing that the entire auto industry does every day…his problem was when the money tightened up the cash flow went in only one directiom and he came out on the short end. Didn’t deserve ten years…..

  • Jacob

    Leok450 on January 30, 2010 American cars dont have the best qulity. My dad had a Nissan van itoprmed from Japan that is still working after 300,000km. But of course we have another car lolz. A 2010 toyota venza

  • Salvation has come to this house | Hope Community Presbyterian Church

    […] It looks like Zacchaeus wanted to be “big,” but he was emphatically not. He had evidently made the choice to pursue wealth by siding with the world power. As a Roman tax collector, he had made himself a pariah. We should remember, as we make this historical translation, that the Roman tax collector was not your typical MDOR or IRS employee. He was a contractor, who had bid to provide a certain revenue to Rome, and he could keep any excess collections as profit. However, you would only call it “profit” if the taxes themselves were legitimate. Most of the people of Jericho would call Zacchaeus’ take something more like ill-gotten booty; they didn’t see the Roman empire as a legitimate government of their country. So we know from the song that Zacchaeus is short; I think Luke means “little” in the metaphorical sense too. So maybe we’re not talking so much about Roger Goodell, but more about car-dealer and fraudster Denny Hecker. […]

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