tampabay.com

Sitter's fears set arrest in motion

By JEFF TESTERMAN
Published November 17, 2006


Matthew B. Cox., a former Tampa mortgage broker who rose to the top of the most-wanted list by purportedly masterminding a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme, was captured Thursday by federal agents at a home he shared with his girlfriend in Nashville.

Eluding capture for almost three years after being pursued by state and federal probation officers, the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service, Cox was turned in by the efforts of Patsy Taylor, a 60-year-old retiree and occasional babysitter.

Now Cox faces a 42-count fraud indictment in Atlanta that could put him behind bars for 400 years, as well as felony charges stemming from fleeing Tampa while on probation and additional fraud charges likely to arise from a federal investigation into fraudulent mortgage loans in the Tampa Heights area.

Taylor, the wife of a Baptist minister, mother of five and one-time owner of a medical transcription business, said she smelled something fishy about Cox, investigated him and then turned him in.

A half-dozen Secret Service agents captured Cox without incident Thursday morning.

"There was a certain deceit I saw in his eyes," Taylor said Thursday. "I didn't trust the things he said."

Taylor met Cox a few months ago as he masqueraded as Joseph Carter, co-owner of a renovation firm called the Nashville Restoration Project, who offered a sweet deal to Taylor's daughter on a remodeled home. Later, Taylor shared babysitting duties caring for the 4-year-old son of Carter's girlfriend.

Nothing about Carter felt right, Taylor said.

"He said he could give my daughter this remodeled place for $150,000, and I knew it was a $250,000 place," Taylor said. "He was supposed to have made all these sales but hadn't really sold anything."

Taylor said she wondered why Carter didn't go out much, and why he had outfitted his restored bungalow home with sophisticated security cameras.

She began to investigate.

After learning Carter was from Florida, she used her computer to look through the archives of the state's newspapers.

Taylor said a story published in the St. Petersburg Times this year caught her attention. It was about a couple from Tampa named Matthew Cox, 37, and Rebecca Hauck on the run from the law.

Focusing on a reference in the story to the most-wanted list circulated by the Secret Service, Taylor went to the agency's Web site. There, at the top of the list was a mug shot of the man her instincts had told her was trouble.

"It scared me to death," said Taylor. "It was Joseph Carter."

Taylor read the Secret Service warning about Cox being armed and dangerous. She worried about her safety, and of the safety of the 4-year-old boy she had cared for as a babysitter. If she was going to take a chance on turning him in, she said, she figured, she ought to ask about a reward.

Last Friday, Taylor e-mailed the Times reporter who had chronicled Cox's history since 2003 and asked if there was a reward. "I think I have some really good information that would catch him today," she wrote.

The Times checked with the Secret Service. No reward. The newspaper next called Paula Hutchinson, attorney for Hauck, who had been captured in March, pleaded guilty to reduced charges and agreed to testify against Cox.

The catch was that Hauck would be able to testify and earn a reduced sentence only if Cox could be found.

Hutchinson said Hauck's family would offer a private reward. The Times relayed the information to Taylor, along with Hutchinson's phone number.

After the two women talked, the lawyer said she was sure Taylor had found Cox. The physical description, the dog named Pinky that Cox took when he left Hauck, the home restoration business, his affinity for Starbucks coffee and Infiniti autos - all were signs that Taylor had located the man at the top of the most wanted list.

Hutchinson put Taylor in touch with Secret Service agents.

Hours after Hauck was sentenced in Atlanta Wednesday to 70 months in prison for her part in a string of mortgage frauds, the Secret Service was monitoring the home of "Joseph Carter" and his girlfriend, Amanda Gardner, at 79 Donelson St. in Nashville

Taylor said an agent called her 10 times Wednesday night, troubled that no one seemed to be home at the Donelson address. Did Taylor have other addresses or phone numbers? Taylor said she did not.

What neither agents nor Taylor knew was that a home invasion at the Donelson Street address on Monday had sent Carter, Gardner and her son into hiding at a motel.

A report from the Nashville Police Department says that two masked men broke into the home, brandished guns and made off with $6,000 in cash, two Cartier watches, a Rolex watch, a 9mm handgun and the couple's silver Infiniti.

"I was scared to death," Gardner said Thursday. Her boyfriend "said he was afraid someone was after him, and we checked into a motel under another name."

But by Thursday morning, Carter was back at the Donelson Street home. After Gardner left the home to take her son to school, agents swooped in.

Gardner returned to find the agents standing over her boyfriend, who confessed that he was Matthew Cox, she said.

Taylor said she gathered the courage to contact federal agents after reading in the Times "about young mothers going to jail while Cox was still doing criminal things."

"I didn't want this to happen again," she said. "I always taught my children, if you do right, you are right."

"Her motives didn't seem to be mercenary," Hutchinson said of Taylor. "She had concerns about her own safety and she was determined to stop the predator of young mothers."

With the capture of Cox, Hauck now becomes eligible for a reduction in her sentence as she fulfills a promise to assist the U.S. government make its case against the man she says was her accomplice.

No one but Hauck can offer the details of the forgery, identity theft, bank fraud and money laundering prosecutors say the couple undertook for nearly two years in Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and the Carolinas.

But with Cox still on the loose when Hauck was sentenced to prison Wednesday, she wondered if she'd have a chance to testify.

"The whole thing has been a bad dream for her," said Hutchinson. "Now, she can wake up."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jeff Testerman can be reached at testerman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3422.