Sentence cut for accomplice to $11M fraud

TAMPA — Rebecca M. Hauck, once on the Secret Service's most-wanted list, saw her federal prison sentence reduced from 70 to 42 months Wednesday for her cooperation in the prosecution of master swindler and former fiance Matthew M. Cox.

Cox, a onetime University of South Florida art student and Tampa mortgage broker, enlisted Hauck, a former Las Vegas legal secretary, as his accomplice in a cross-country forgery and mortgage fraud binge. It lasted almost four years and cost victims in five states more than $11-million.

The spree came to an end when Cox was handcuffed by federal agents in Tennessee in late 2006, less than a day after Hauck was sentenced to five years, 10 months in prison after agreeing to assist in the capture and prosecution of Cox.

In Atlanta Wednesday, a federal judge said he believed Hauck was "profoundly remorseful" about her role in the fraud. The prosecutor said Hauck not only helped catch Cox, she helped recover assets that are being liquidated to repay victims.

Among the recovered items are original paintings by Cox that Hauck's attorney, Paula Hutchinson, said she would place on eBay for auction following Wednesday's hearing.

"I think these are intrinsically fascinating pieces of art that have an edginess to them," said Hutchinson. "But I also think there is an appeal to collectors who are interested in these kinds of things as true crime artifacts."

Cox's art is what first attracted Hauck to him, she has said. She met Cox through an online dating service, where he had posted some of his artwork.

Cox left extensive art deco wall murals on a Tampa Heights triplex he owned, much of it patterned after paintings of Polish art deco portraitist Tamara de Lempicka.

Cox, 38, faced more than 400 years in prison. But, facing the possibility of Hauck's testimony, he plea bargained and was sentenced to 26 years in prison in November.

Cox was ordered to pay restitution of $5.97-million, while Hauck's restitution was set at $1.19-million. Proceeds from the sale of Cox's art will go toward reducing each restitution amount.

But Wednesday, Hutchinson said she believes her client is unfairly burdened by restitution because the U.S. government hasn't followed through with the prosecution of confederates that Hauck and Cox both named in extensive FBI debriefings.

Only two others have been convicted for their involvement with Cox's fraud network in Florida: Eric Tamar­go, a landscaper and methamphetamine addict Cox used as a straw man in a fraudulent bank loan in Tampa, and Alison Arnold, a Cox girlfriend who was his accomplice in a bank fraud in Pinellas County.

In February 2005, as Arnold was sentenced to two years in prison, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Mosakowski told a judge that charges were expected against as many as 13 more defendants in the Tampa Bay area.

But three years and dozens of Cox/Hauck debriefings later, there are no new charges.

"In the Middle District of Florida, specifically, there are people walking around who were involved with Cox," said Hutchinson. "But there doesn't seem to be any move to prosecute."

Additional charges based on Cox's cooperation could reduce his sentence, and more convictions could spread the restitution among more defendants.

Hauck and Cox went on the lam in December 2003, as the St. Petersburg Times was preparing an investigative story tying Cox to a series of questionable property deals in Tampa Heights.

On Dec. 15, 2003, the day after the Times story entitled "Dubious deals" was published, Cox and Hauck surfaced in Atlanta. They stole identities, forged documents and defrauded banks and homeowners in Georgia.

The couple were indicted in absentia and put on the Secret Service's most-wanted list before they had a falling out and separated in Houston.

There, Hauck took a new identity, Rebecca Hickey, and attended cosmetology school by day and tended bar by night. Arrested in March 2006, she provided details of Cox's schemes and identifying quirks.

But no one was sure where Cox was until Nov. 16, 2006, when 60-year-old Nashville retiree Patsy Taylor e-mailed a Times reporter and said she believed Cox was living with a woman for whom Taylor sometimes provided babysitting.

In her e-mail, Taylor asked if there was a reward. Hutchinson phoned Hauck's family and learned, yes, it would put up a reward. The babysitter gave Cox's alias to the Secret Service, and he was arrested.

In the motion to reduce Hauck's sentence, prosecutors emphasized Hauck's role in arranging the family reward.

Now, Cox and Hauck are imprisoned at different wings of the same facility, Coleman Correctional Institution in Sumter County. With gain time, Hutchinson expects Hauck, 36, could be released early next year.

Jeff Testerman can be reached at (813) 226-3422 or testerman@sptimes.com.

Sentence cut for accomplice to $11M fraud 03/19/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 20, 2008 5:00pm]

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