Car Owner Rick Hendrick Sentenced

31 December 1997

ASHEVILLE, NC: It was a year full of tears for Rick Hendrick. There were tears of joy as his three car racing team finished first, second, and third in the Daytona 500. His star driver, Jeff Gordon, captured the Winston Cup Championship in November. There were tears of sadness throughout the year as Hendrick continued his battle with myelogenous leukemia, a form of bone-marrow cancer. Then, on the final day of the year, Hendrick was sentenced to one year of in home detention, three years probation, and a $250,000 fine for his part in the American Honda Motor Company bribery and kickback scandal.

Rick Hendrick's NASCAR Drivers
Rick Hendrick's NASCAR drivers from left:
Jeff Gordon, Ricky Craven, and Terry Labonte

In August, Hendrick confessed to sending $20,000 to a Honda executive. He also pleaded guilty to mail fraud. The crimes could have put Hendrick in prison for five years in addition to his $250,000 fine.

After the sentencing, the 48 year old car owner commented, "I've come to realize that what I did was wrong and I accept responsibility for that. I would rather die than hurt these people the way I have. I've accepted the fact that I may only have a couple of years to live and I am at peace with that because I have been blessed with a wonderful family and friends."

Harold Bender, defense attorney said, "He has been punished by someone of higher authority when he was stricken with this illness." Bender sought at 10 month sentence for Hendrick.

Today's sentencing put to rest a three year battle with the government. Officials claimed Hendrick built his car dealership empire through bribery and scandal. Other car dealers are still pursuing the issue. Hendrick faces over 50 lawsuits from competitors who are accusing him of unfair competition

Originally, Hendrick was charged with bribery, conspiracy, and thirteen counts of money laundering. The conspiracy and money laundering charges were dropped as part of a plea agreement when Hendrick admitted to giving cash to a Honda executive.

Attorney for the United States, Mark Calloway was satisfied with the sentencing. He said, "The sentence called for by the plea agreement tempers justice with mercy. While the crime to which Mr. Hendrick has admitted his guilt is a serious one, in light of his health, the sentence range agreed to seems appropriate."

Hendrick was named with 22 other defendants who have been convicted in the investigation of American Honda.

The scandal started in the 80s as Hondas were in high demand. Dealers could sell the cars for thousands of dollars above the sticker cost. Executives at Honda took advantage of the high demand by soliciting bribes from dealers. Dealers were granted new dealerships and increased shipments of cars. In all, Honda executives accepted of $15 million in bribes and kickbacks, according to the prosecutors.

Hendrick's name appeared on the prosecutor's list three years ago. Hendrick admitted giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, BMWs and even houses to Honda executives. Hendrick claims he received nothing in return.

Hendrick was indicted in December 1996, by a federal grand jury in Asheville for bribing Honda executives. The indictment came just two weeks after Hendrick was told he had leukemia.

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel

Editors Note: The images displayed in this article (plus many more) can be viewed in the Racing Image Galleries from The Callahan Racing Page.

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