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Fresno ex-Congressman TJ Cox takes plea deal in federal fraud and money laundering case

Former San Joaquin Valley Congressman TJ Cox has accepted a plea deal in a federal case in which he faces wire fraud, money laundering and other criminal charges, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

Cox is expected to have a hearing on July 29 in the U.S. District Court that covers the Fresno area.

An attorney for Cox and attorneys for the government requested that the hearing date be held on July 29 “to allow the parties to finalize plea terms and file amendments to plea documents,” according to the filing.

No terms of the plea deal were set, and neither federal prosecutors nor Cox’s Fresno-based attorney, Mark Coleman, returned requests for comment Thursday.

Generally, a change of plea hearing occurs when a suspect changes their plea from “not guilty” to “guilty” on a criminal charge or charges. At a modification of the plea hearing, a judge may hear the terms of a plea agreement.

Terrance John “TJ” Cox surrendered to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents on August 16, 2022; he appeared virtually before a federal judge and was released on parole. The indictment consisted of 28 counts: 15 counts of bank fraud, 11 counts of money laundering, one count of financial institution fraud and one count of campaign contribution fraud.

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The criminal penalties include up to twenty years in prison and a $250,000 fine for bank fraud and money laundering; up to 30 years and a $1 million fine for bank fraud against a financial institution; and a maximum of five years and a $250,000 fine for campaign contribution fraud.

The charges date back to cases Cox conducted in 2018, documents show, and when he was a Democratic candidate and then congressman for a San Joaquin Valley district from 2019 to 2021.

Federal prosecutors alleged in the indictment that Cox committed “multiple fraud schemes” targeting companies he was associated with and their customers and lenders.

The charges relate to four different roles: when he headed a Fresno company focused on supporting development investments in financially distressed areas through the New Market Tax Credit; a partner in a nonprofit that leased the troubled Granite Park Sports Complex in downtown Fresno from the city of Fresno; a partner in an almond processing company; and a candidate for Congress in 2018.

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Prosecutors alleged Cox stole more than $1.7 million in diverted customer payments and business loans and investments. They said Cox created false documents and a fraudulent loan guarantee to secure a $1.5 million construction loan through a nonprofit sports organization for improvements to Granite Park.

The indictment also alleged violations of campaign contributions by straw donors. Prosecutors said he gave more than $25,000 to business associates and family members to make it appear they were donating to his 2018 campaign for Congress.

Cox was elected in 2018 after defeating incumbent Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, for a seat spanning Kings County and parts of Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties. Valadao retook Cox’s seat in a 2020 rematch. That district was part of old legislative maps that have since been redrawn.

Bob Rodriguez and Thaddeus Miller of the Fresno Bee contributed to this story.

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