MINNEAPOLIS -- The name "Christi Rowan" appears in numerous U.S. District Court documents involving failed auto mogul Denny Hecker, 57, of Medina.
Rowan, 36, now finds her own name on a short list of Hecker-related defendants.
Who is Christi Rowan?
She is, by her's and Denny Hecker's public statements, Hecker's live-in girlfriend. But where is she from? How did they meet? What is her background?
Denny Hecker has been fighting no less than four separate legal actions. In U.S. District Court, he faces 25 counts of Bankruptcy Fraud, Wire Fraud, Money laundering and Conspiracy charges.
In U.S. Bankruptcy Court he faces charges that he has hidden assets. In Hennepin County District Court, he was a target in separate actions by two of his four ex-wives. Hennepin County Judge Jay Quam called Hecker's situation the "trifecta of legal trouble, probably unprecedented in Minnesota history."
Rowan, herself, has been the target of Trustee Randall Seaver in the federal bankruptcy case against Hecker. As of Friday, April 9th, Rowan faces criminal fraud charges as well.
Rowan's story begins in Dallas, Texas. She was born, Christi Michele Westmoreland, in August of 1973. She attended Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1990's, but did not graduate.
First brush with the law
As far as can be determined, her connection to Minnesota and her first major brush with the legal system began in Phoenix, Arizona. She was working for the now-defunct Mel Clayton Ford dealership at 1550 E. Camelback Road.
The single mother with a young daughter was charged with stealing $14,000 from the dealership. There were two separate incidents in 1999 in which Westmoreland kept $7,000 of the down payment for each of two vehicles.
Other than a misdemeanor charge of speeding in 1998 in Elroy, Arizona, the theft charge is Westmoreland's first reported legal trouble.
In May of 2000, Christi Westmoreland pleaded guilty to two counts of felony theft before Maricopa County Court Judge Peter Rubenstein.
Documents obtained by KARE 11 indicate that Westmoreland told the court that she needed the money to raise her daughter.
During the time period of the thefts, Westmoreland stayed away from work, first saying that her daughter had "severe medical problems."
Later, she told a court official that she had been "having an affair with a married man at work" and that she "did not want to have to go back into the office."
In fact, the documents show, a man identified as a nephew of the dealership owner, admitted to having an affair with Westmoreland.
Court documents indicate that, since it was her first offense, she was sentenced to restitution of the $14,000 to Mel Clayton Ford, two years of probation and 50 hours of community service.
Around this time, Westmoreland met Northfield, Minnesota native Brent Rowan, who had attended an aviation school in Arizona.
In October of 2000, Westmoreland asked the Arizona court to allow her to leave the state and move to Minnesota so that she could marry Rowan.
"Misleading and ambiguous"
Probation Officer Susan Milligan filed documents with the court allowing the move, but included harsh words about Westmoreland.
Milligan wrote that Westmoreland's written request "contained misleading and ambiguous information pertaining to her and her finance's employment."
Milligan noted that Westmoreland claimed her then-employer, Power Tan Corporation, "was transferring her." However, according to court documents, the owner of Power Tan stated "she was going to Minnesota against his wishes."
The owner told the probation investigator that Westmoreland presented her conviction to him "as a sexual harassment set-up by Mel Clayton Ford. He was surprised to learn the truth and subsequently terminated her employment."
Milligan also noted that Brent Rowan "is not a Northwest Airlines pilot as she claimed, but a recent aviation graduate who wants to work for Northwest Airlines in the future."
Finally, the probation officer summed up her feelings by adding "It appears the defendant manipulates the truth to her advantage."
Moves to Minnesota
Christi Westmoreland, her daughter and Brent Rowan moved to Minnesota. They married in October, 2001. At that point, she changed her name to Christi Michele Rowan. A son was born in December, 2004.
In 2006, she petitioned the Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County to "vacate" her guilty plea and dismiss the two 2000 felony convictions. Judge Barbara Spencer denied her request, but did restore Rowan's "civil rights." Christi Rowan remains a convicted felon.
Meets Denny Hecker
Sometime after arriving in Minnesota, Christi Rowan took a job as a sales executive with now-defunct Pax Broadcasting.
While employed there, she volunteered at the annual Randy Shaver Charity Golf Tournament. She contends that she first met prominent auto dealerships owner Denny Hecker while volunteering at the tournament.
For his part, Hecker told Hennepin County Court Judge Jay Quam on March 30, 2010 that he had known Rowan for "15 years." He called her his "significant other." 15 years would place Rowan back in the time frame before she moved to Minnesota.
Hecker made the "15 years" remark during a court hearing about his assets in a spousal support lawsuit involving Sandra Hecker, the second of Hecker's four wives.
It was at the conclusion of that hearing that Hecker was taken into custody, in Judge Quam's words, to "motivate" him. He was released three days later from the Hennepin County Workhouse, having satisfied Quam that he could comply with the Judge's wishes. Christi Rowan drove him away from the jail in a white Land Rover.
Worked at KARE
Rowan took a job as a sales executive at KARE-TV in March 2007. She left the station in July 2008. While at KARE, Rowan handled at least part of the Denny Hecker account.
The public awareness of Christi Rowan owes to her relationship with the embattled and failed businessman, whose auto sales and leasing empire had collapsed.
According to court documents in U.S. District Bankruptcy Court action against Hecker, Christi Rowan and her two children moved into the former Whitney Hotel in Minneapolis in March of 2008. The rent was $4,000 per month, paid "almost solely" by Hecker.
Divorces Brent Rowan
She and Brent Rowan divorced in October 2008. They have joint custody of their son, with liberal visitation for the boy's father. In a March 2010 email, to KARE 11's Allen Costantini, Brent Rowan praised Christi Rowan.
In a phone conversation on the day she was charged with criminal fraud, he said "As mother of my son, I support her through everything." He observed that "she has been put in a bad position."
In 2009, Christi Rowan and her two children moved into Denny Hecker's home in Medina with Hecker. Court documents indicate that part of remodeling of the home was done by Brent Rowan, who has a contracting business.
Also in the household were two minor children by Hecker's marriage to fourth wife, Tamitha. Hecker's divorce from Tamitha Hecker occurred in December 2009. The final financial settlement is still to be reached in Hennepin County Court.
Court spotlight on Rowan
It is the federal bankruptcy proceedings that first drew Christi Rowan into the legal and public spotlight.
Bankruptcy Trustee Randall Seaver and Trustee Lawyer Matthew Burton have alleged that Rowan assisted Hecker in hiding assets from the court as he continued "his lavish lifestyle" just before and during bankruptcy.
Court documents contend that, "prior to filing (bankruptcy, he) funded an expensive and extravagant lifestyle for Rowan." This included "vacations, large amounts of cash, air travel, jewelry and clothing and also funded Rowan's daughter's tuition at Breck School and Rowan's lease of a 2008 Land Rover."
The documents contend that in the year "prior to filing, Hecker caused over $235,000 in cash and checks to be transferred to Rowan."
The Land Rover "scheme"
The Land Rover became of special interest to the Trustee because of the way in which it was obtained.
Documents indicate that "Rowan went to Land Rover/Jaguar of Minneapolis in April, 2009 for the purpose of buying or leasing a Land Rover for Hecker...Rowan knew that she would not qualify for the credit necessary for the purchase if she honestly disclosed that she was unemployed, except for her photography business."
In Rowan's credit application, signed by her and submitted to the dealer, she stated that "she was an attorney employed by Gannett (KARE's parent company) making over $189,000 annually. The application was false. She is not and has never been an attorney and was not earning over $189,000 annually."
In fact, Rowan's job at KARE in 2007 and 2008 was as a sales person. She left KARE several months before the Land Rover application was made.
However, it is the Land Rover loan application to a credit union that prompted U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones to charge Rowan with one count of "bank fraud," a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
He added an additional charge of giving a false statement under oath, a crime punishable by five years in prison. Both allegations were made in an "information" rather than an indictment.
Usually, an "information" charge is used when the defendant is cooperating with authorities and a plea deal is imminent. The U.S. Attorney's office had no comment on any such deal with Christi Rowan.
According to the bankruptcy court record, Hecker provided Rowan with $13,000 at the closing on the Land Rover. He "funded primarily" the monthly $2,178.16 payments and he has had "possession and use of the Hecker Land Rover." The accusation is simply "Hecker is the owner of the Hecker Land Rover."
The palatial estate-sized home that the auto mogul had owned on exclusive Hunter Drive in Medina was lost in foreclosure to TCF bank which sold it to a Merrill Lynch executive in 2010. The property which borders Mooney Lake was valued at $6.5 million, but sold for $3.5 million.
The Northridge "lease"
As noted earlier, Hecker, with Rowan and his/her children, moved into his nearby previous residence at 1615 Northridge Drive in Medina.
In early 2009, he funded some improvements to the house. "Some of those improvements were made to Northridge by Rowan's former husband, Brent Rowan," according to Court documents. Brent Rowan has his own contracting business.
The Bankruptcy Trustee alleges that "Hecker and Rowan wanted to protect the Northridge home from administration by the Chapter 7 Trustee when Hecker filed his contemplated bankruptcy."
The claim is that Hecker and Rowan concocted a "scheme" involving a "purported lease" in which "Rowan would pay $5,000 per month in rent."
The allegation is that the unemployed Rowan could not have made either the rent or the Land Rover payments and the "lease" was a way "Hecker was able to encumber Northridge thus preventing the Trustee from administering the Northridge property."
On February 23rd, the federal bankruptcy trustee filed a judgement against Rowan for $425,000. This involves money and property given to her by Hecker or obtained by her for Hecker's use. The April 9th criminal fraud charges are in U.S. District Court.
If there is to be a plea deal on the fraud charges, the details would not be public until a "plea hearing" is held in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on April 20th.
Rowan faces contempt actions by federal Bankruptcy Trustee Seaver for alledged actions and information about Hecker's assets that have not been revealed to Seaver's satisfaction. That issue is to be heard on May 26th.
No interview yet
At this writing, Christi Rowan has not agreed to an interview about these matters.
She scheduled an interview with KARE's Allen Costantini in March, but cancelled.
Although there have been email and telephone exchanges, she continues to decline an on-camera interview.
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