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Behind Bars: Denny Hecker’s Life In Prison

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(credit: CBS) Esme Murphy
Esme Murphy, a reporter and Sunday morning anchor for WCCO-TV, h...
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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.

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