Man enters guilty plea in mortgage fraud scam

ATLANTA - A man accused of stealing the identities of children, the homeless and people in drug rehab as part of a massive mortgage fraud scheme pleaded guilty to federal charges in three states Tuesday.

Matthew Cox, 37, faces up to 54 years in prison and $2 million in fines at his Aug. 22 sentencing, but likely will not receive that stiff a punishment.

As part of a deal Mr. Cox struck with the government, prosecutors have agreed to recommend that U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten sentence him at the low end of federal guidelines.

Mr. Cox pleaded guilty to six charges that were leveled in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee: bank fraud, identity theft, passport fraud, two counts of mortgage fraud conspiracy, and violating his probation for a previous mortgage fraud conviction.

Forty-one other counts against him in Georgia will be dropped as part of his plea agreement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gale McKenzie said. Mr. Cox agreed to cooperate with any further investigation of his activities. It wasn't immediately clear if that could lead to other people being charged.

Mr. Cox had previously pleaded not guilty to the Georgia charges at a hearing in December at which Ms. McKenzie disclosed that Mr. Cox also would face charges in Nashville, Tenn., and Tampa, Fla. The three cases were consolidated in Atlanta.

The Secret Service arrested Mr. Cox, one of its most wanted fugitives, on Nov. 16 in Nashville on charges that he and a partner stole identities to take more than $1 million from victims in several Southern states.

Authorities put out a warrant for Mr. Cox and Rebecca Marie Hauck in 2004.

Prosecutors say the couple rented properties, fraudulently erased mortgage liens on the properties and then stole the owners' identities and fraudulently took out new mortgage loans.

They also used stolen identities to obtain driver's licenses, purchase vehicles, lease mail drops, rent apartments and open bank accounts to receive proceeds from their schemes in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina, authorities said.

Mr. Cox allegedly obtained some of the stolen identities from homeless people by posing as a Red Cross worker taking a survey. His Georgia indictment lists seven aliases.

Ms. Hauck, 34, and Mr. Cox were indicted on charges of bank fraud, wire fraud, interstate transportation of fraud proceeds, identity theft, money laundering and conspiracy. Ms. Hauck was arrested in March 2006 while living under a stolen identity in Houston.

She has pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years, 10 months in prison, followed by five years on supervised release.