IU Alumna Breaks Big Insurance Case
The strange story of Marcus Schrenker first made national news in January when the Fishers money manager parachuted out of his plane before it crashed in the Florida panhandle as authorities say his complex scheme of fraud was unraveling.
But law school alumna Lisa Harpenau , ‘07, had already been on the case for more than a year, beginning when she was a part-time investigator for the Indiana Department of Insurance while studying for the Indiana bar exam.
Now she’s considered a hero by Schrenker’s victims and was recently awarded the Governor’s Public Service Achievement award as a result of her work on the Schrenker matter.
In fact, Harpenau had just graduated from law school when the 26-year-old received an after-hours phone call from Charles Kinney one evening in August 2007.
“I’ll never forget what he said. He said, ‘You have a rogue agent there in Indiana.’” Harpenau says.
The Delta Airlines pilot from Atlanta, Ga. proceeded to tell her that his elderly parents had invested nearly $900,000 with Schrenker and had lost nearly everything. And they had the documentation to prove it, he said.
“I thought that, while you never presume someone is guilty, if what Charles Kinney says is true, we have quite a case here,” Harpenau recalls. “My instincts told me there really was a problem.”
Harpenau—who admits her co-workers at the Department of Insurance like to make fun of her love of documents, files and mounds of paper—says it was like Christmas when the evidence arrived in boxes.
The information became the basis of an insurance case that is now over, at least for Harpenau. The Indiana Department of Insurance successfully prosecuted Schrenker for selling longterm annuities to people while promising they wouldn’t pay penalties for early withdrawals. In fact, some of Schrenker’s clients racked up stiff penalties, often when he forged their signatures and secretly moved the money from account to account so he could collect up-front commissions.
“He just pocketed the money,” Harpenau says.
Federal and state authorities say it was a multi-million dollar scam with victims in several states, including Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.
A restitution order has been filed, and Indiana authorities will attempt to collect more than $280,000 in fines and a little more than $300,000 in restitution. While Schrenker owes much more than that to former clients, judgments around the country are still being finalized.
As of late April, Schrenker was still sitting in a Florida jail, having entered an insanity plea for charges that he faces in Florida for crashing his plane and faking distress calls. On June 6, he changed his plea on those charges to guilty.
Credits Trial Practice Class Harpenau, now a full-time market regulation attorney with the Indiana Department of Insurance’s consumer protection unit, was hired on the spot when she first interviewed for the part-time job at the Indiana Department of Insurance.
It was a natural fit for Harpenau, who was an insurance sales agent for Indiana Farm Bureau. She’d also worked as a law clerk and administrative assistant for the Indianapolis law firm Hunsucker, Goodstein & Nelson, where she learned a little bit about insurance law—and a lot about “searching for that needle in a haystack in 60 boxes of documentation,” she says.
A graduate of Twin Lakes High School in Monticello, Indiana Harpenau’s first job was as an arcade game worker at Indiana Beach. She went on to major in psychology at IUPUI, where undergraduate courses in business law and psychology in law piqued her interest.
Almost on a whim, Harpenau took the LSAT and applied to law school. Once accepted, her career path was set.
“I had a lot of great professors in law school,” she says. “Learning the rules of evidence from Professor [Henry] Karlson also really paved my way to being able to apply those rules to one big, real-life case.”
The Schrenker case was a big one, but Harpenau predicts she’ll run into additional interesting cases. And she doesn’t think her actions should be considered unusual.
“I am happy I could help people but at the end of the day, this is what I would do in any job,” she says. “This is what Indiana taxpayer dollars pay me to do."