Report airs Dateline NBC on Sept. 2
It’s the ultimate taboo to give away the ending to any book. But we’ll tell you this: Matthew Cox's book ends with a fugitive con man, on a Florida cruise ship, carrying a bag with millions in cash, sailing away with the girl of his dreams one step ahead of the angry throng giving chase.
But is the book fiction or fact?
There are truths in this tall tale as bizarre as any novel.
Alison Arnold: He felt like the modern-day Robin Hood he would steal from the rich and give to the poor. That was his thing. And I believed in him.
The story begins in Tampa, Florida in the late 90’s when a hard-charging 20-something named Matthew Cox began making a name for himself as a mortgage broker.
Scott Cugno: I always used to say to him, “Matt you never come across as a salesman to me.”
Scott Cugno was a bank rep who thought the mortgage business a strange fit for Cox. For one thing, Cox was severely dyslexic, and he’d heard Matthew’s stories about the special schools he attended, where teachers told him he should work with his hands and that he wasn’t smart enough to do anything else. So Matthew Cox had studied art at the University of South Florida, working on sculptures and developing a passion for, even an obsession with painting.
Cugno: He always had pictures he would show me when I came in his office.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: Artistic guy?
Cugno: Very artistic.
But now Cox the artist was attacking the mortgage world as he attacked his canvas and his life: as if he had something to prove.
And remarkably, the man whose friends wondered if he could even read beyond a second grade level, had somehow written a book, called “The Associates,” a work of fiction with a main character whose charm, personality, and even physical description was the spitting image of the book’s author, Matthew Cox.
Quote from Cox's novel: Christian J. Locke was 29 years old, stood only five foot seven inches tall, with dark brown hair/sun-tanned skin..
Cugno: He did show it to me and straight from Matt’s mouth. It was just about a guy that was gonna basically go around the country committing mortgage fraud, and then sail away.
Morrison: What did you think when he told you about the book?
Cugno: Well, I kinda knew.
Knew, he says, because from the day he’d met Cox, the word was out in Tampa’s “everyone-knows-everybody” mortgage world that something, well, slippery was going on in Cox’s office.
Cugno: You just knew because other people in the business would talk how Matt’s office is. “If you need a W-2, he’ll make it always appear. If you need someone’s Social Security card, he’ll make it appear.”
Morrison: So he wasn’t just bending the rules he was breaking them?
Cugno: Absolutely… oh absolutely.
And just how badly Cox was breaking the rules became clear in the spring of 2001, when a warrant was issued for his arrest?
Cugno: I had come to his office and people had told me “Man, the cops were just here. Matt just literally ran out the back door, jumped over the fence... and…”
Morrison: You’re kidding! Jumped over the back fence..?
Cugno: Yeah I guess a couple of ‘em did because they were all kinda worried.
Morrison: It was clearly a rogue office?
Cugno: Oh absolutely.
Suddenly, that novel Matthew Cox had written didn’t sound so far-fetched. He was facing state and federal charges. What had he done?
For starters, he assumed a fake identity to get an $80,000 mortgage. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy and grand theft, got three years probation and was ordered to stay out of the mortgage business. Which might have been the end of our little story. Except the convictions did not stop Matthew Cox.
Oh, he didn’t work as a mortgage broker, not exactly. But he was certainly back in the business. He called himself “a consultant.”
He just wouldn’t stop living on the edge, said his friends. He was a sky-diver, a daredevil who on the ground skirted the law and honed his schemes. He was able to fake good credit to buy literally dozens of Tampa properties, including an apartment building. Inside, Cox left his distinctive mark in great swatches of vibrant color, painting huge murals all over the walls. Matthew Cox was here it said.
And then secretly, leaving almost no mark at all, according to investigators, he used his building like a burglar’s tool. Again, using a false name, he filed fake documents to make it appear it was paid off.
From his novel: He was a mortgage broker, not a bank robber. He just had ‘a knack for finding loopholes…
It’s reported Cox took out mortgages on this building worth nearly a $1 million, five times what it was worth.
And then, Cox turned his charms on young women.
Arnold: He said "All you need is someone to believe in you."
Her name is Alison Arnold. She was 29 years old in 2003 and miserable. Her marriage was on the rocks, she had a young son to care for, she had big dreams but was drowning in a sea of debt.
Arnold: He said, “You could work for me. I’ll pay for you to get your mortgage license. I’ll pay for you to get divorced. I’ll give you money for an apartment. I’ll rent it for you. I’ll furnish it. You’ll be set. You can start a new life. The offer was on the table.”
Morrison: What did you do?
Arnold: I took him on his offer.
And just like that, Alison left her husband, and joined Cox’s office as a loan processor.
But Matthew Cox as a lover? That lasted about a week. The real relationship, it turned out, wasn’t about sex, or romance. There were lessons to be learned.
Arnold: He loved to go to the movies.
Morrison: What kind of movies did he like?
Arnold: Anything to do with criminal activity.
Arnold: “Catch Me If You Can,” he loved that movie. We went and saw this movie, “The Italian Job.”
Alison had seen how shady Cox’s strategies were and how successful. She was intrigued.
Arnold: He said that he wanted to help me in a way that would make me loyal to him. And he told me straight up.
Morrison: Was he upfront about that?
Arnold: Very, very upfront. The loyalty part came in when he needed favors from me to do the illegal mortgages.
And she convinced herself it wasn’t actually bad, not evil. They were more like Robin Hood, Cox told her—the big fat insurance companies would cover the losses, nobody would actually get hurt.
And so she was willingly sucked in.
Alison rented a home, forged a deed, and then just as Cox told her he’d done again and again, filed phony paperwork to get three real mortgage loans borrowing nearly $400,000 against a property she didn’t even own.
Then, she bought a house under a fake name and incredibly, the Social Security number of her own young son.
Morrison: You must have known that what you were doing was not just shady but illegal.
Arnold: I knew it was illegal but...
Morrison: But it still felt like nobody was getting hurt?
Arnold: It felt like nobody was getting hurt, yeah. And Matt did it and he got in trouble twice for exactly the same thing that I did, exactly. So I thought, okay there’s a risk. But the risk to me, was, “I’ll have a felony and a thousand dollar fine. Okay. But I’ll make $250,000.” I didn’t think it was a big deal.
There they were, she thought, Bonnie and Clyde, real estate division.
But soon, she says, he began to make her feel that she wasn’t quite good enough, or smart enough or attractive enough to play the role.
Arnold: He said, “You’re pretty in a trailer park kind of way.” He’s like, “We’re gonna buy you some boobs,” like that. He said “Every girl I date, I buy boobs for her. I said no way.”
But when Alison refused implants, she could no longer be that character in Matthew’s book.
From his novel: He even managed to buy her a set of silicone breast implants. Christian had to admit, it was one of the best investments he’d ever made.
And Alison says she was about to learn a very painful lesson. Her partner in crime was not burdened by sentimentality or affection. She would not be the only woman to fall for this charming thief.
By the summer of 2003, Matthew Cox had left a colorful mark in Tampa, Florida—from the murals that sprawled through his apartment building, to his manuscript for a novel about real estate fraud.
From Cox’s novel: If everyone was going to treat him like a criminal, then it was damn sure time he started acting like one.
Then there were his dozens of mortgage-maxxed homes and buildings, his Audi TT sportscar, and designer clothes.
And by Cox’s side was a woman who thought she was living the fairy tale dream: Alison Arnold. He felt like the modern-day Robin Hood. He would steal from the rich and give to the poor. That was his thing and I believed in him.
Of course, Alison Arnold wanted to believe—enough to succumb to his advances, leave her husband and break the law, as she says Cox had taught her. She filed false paperwork to make it appear a mortgage was paid off, then pulled out hundreds of thousands of dollars and leaving lenders holding the bag.
She wanted it. But—
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: Was he able to make your life successful?
Alison Arnold: No, he always just paid my mortgage. He just gave me enough to make a car payment.
Morrison: It sounded like he was controlling your life at this point?
Arnold: I was totally dependent on him for everything.
She was living HIS fantasy, she says. Her life? Her son? It didn’t matter to him—
Arnold: He liked feeling like he was living in a movie. He wanted me to be the “Bonnie and Clyde” with him. He’s like, why don’t you just leave your son? And I said, “No I can never leave my son.”
Surely he would understand that. She was, of course, wrong.
From his book: It was apparent that if you were not with Christian, you were against him.
And here was the consequence: Alison had been replaced.
Rebecca Hauck: He answered my ad. He was very charming. He was funny.
Matthew Cox found Rebecca Hauck on Match.com. There, right away, she confessed she was new in town, a single mother with a son named Bryce, that she was on the run from an addiction to video poker.
She was insecure. She was vulnerable. She was perfect.
He took her to dinner where they hit it off.
Morrison: So what did Matthew tell you that he did?
Hauck: He told me he owned his own company, he had about 20 people that worked for him that thought he was a god and they all wanted to be his friend.
Rebecca was dazzled. When he asked her out again, she said, of course. He took her to a movie: “Matchstick Men.”
Hauck: He couldn’t wait for us to get out of the movie because he said, that’s small potatoes. And I’m like, what are you talking about? And then he proceeded to tell me he was on probation for mortgage fraud…
Morrison: When he told you that, what did you think?
Hauck: Well, I thought he was on probation. I thought, "Okay y’know he said it happened two years ago."
Morrison: But he’s talking about how he breaks the law!
Hauck: I know, I know. I thought, “Who am I to judge?” You know, everybody has a past.
There was something about him that irresistible. And he seemed to see just what he wanted in her.
Hauck: He hit me hard and fast as far as like wining and dining me.
Morrison: Do you think you seemed needy?
Hauck: As he got to know me more, yes. He told my son that he was gonna put him in private school. He was building condos and he was gonna let he and I live in a condo and let my son live in one below it by himself… and…
Morrison: You had been poor? And now you were going to be rich!
Hauck: I know. I had diamonds. I had a Rolex. He’d just give me cash for whatever I wanted my prince charming.
Rebecca Hauck was mesmerized by these amazing stories: how to beat the system, get rich, and not hurt a living soul.
Hauck: He told me that his friend and him would create people. He’d make up a name, make up a fake Social Security number and so they’d get all these credit cards in fake names buy all this stuff and never pay it.
Morrison: You must have realized it was not legal.
Hauck: Oh yeah, I did.
Morrison: Was that not a problem?
Hauck: It was but by the time he started approaching me with this, I was so consumed with him.
Rebecca Hauck says she believed every word and salivated about wealth like she’d never experienced before. Neither she, nor Matthew Cox, apparently, was aware that around Tampa a buzz was growing about federal investigations. The law was on Cox’s trail once again.
And then one day, a tip off.
Hauck: Someone who wrote for the paper sent his partner an article saying, “we’re on to you…”
Morrison: This was gonna be in the paper?
Hauck: Yeah. And he knew he was already on probation.
But here’s the twist that’s truly bizarre: Cox the aspiring novelist had written passages years earlier that he now seemed to be living almost word for word in real life.
Novel excerpt: Panic set in for the first time. How in the hell had the FBI gotten involved? Someone must’ve tipped them off. But who?
Hauck: He wouldn’t go back to his house because he was afraid they’d pick him up there if he was gonna get picked up again, he was going to prison..
Matthew Cox was about to ask that same question again, the one he’d asked Alison Arnold.
Hauck: He’s like, “Will you come with me?”
And this time the answer would be yes.
In December 2003, Matthew Cox disappeared from his hometown of Tampa. Former business acquaintances, like Scott Cugno, were perplexed.
Scott Cugno, former business partner: He had 60 properties at that time, give or take, that he owned.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: That’s a lot to abandon.
But his former partner-in-crime Alison Arnold knew exactly what had happened.
Alison Arnold: When I found out that he went on the run, I wanted to die inside because I knew everything was gonna be exposed.
Or would it? After all, Cox’s new confederate, Rebecca Hauck was willing to do whatever Alison was not. And especially, to leave her son, 13-year-old Bryce and go on the run.
Rebecca Hauck: Bryce was actually going to visit my mom for Christmas, so I’d already gotten him a ticket to go.
Morrison: So when you took him to the airport…
Hauck: Oh it was horrible. I was just crying. I wouldn’t let him go. He’s like, “I’ll be back in two weeks.” Wat’s going on you know? Because I was so upset.
Morrison: You knew he was going, maybe forever? And you were prepared to do that?
Hauck: Well I was under the impression that I would get to see him.
Days after they left Tampa, a hard-hitting expose, outlining some of Cox’s alleged swindles, appeared in the St. Petersburg Times, headlined ‘Dubious Deals.’
All those dozens of properties, and so much more about Matthew Cox were not all that they seemed.
Law enforcement went into gear. Warrants were issued. But a manhunt? No.
And nobody in Tampa had the slightest idea that Matthew Cox and Rebecca Hauck were in Atlanta. And soon, they were setting up shop in another apartment building.
Hauck: We had to get new identities so we just went to dinner one night, made up a name.
She became Grace Hudson. And Cox? Well, he drove across the border to Alabama, walked into this DMV, and the dyslexic artist who’d developed an amazing ability to copy signatures doctored a few documents and transformed himself into, shall we say, an old friend…
Cugno: I couldn’t believe that this was happening!
Cox, it turns out, had volunteered to handle Scott Cugno’s mortgage a couple years earlier. And now to his horror Cugno discovered his former friend had used all that precious and secret personal information for his own dirty work.
Cugno: He took my identity and bought houses—a car, and some credit cards…
Morrison: How much did he steal using your name?
Cugno: I think it’s like $50,000. This was his way of playing a game.
And the game was on. Rebecca was getting a crash-course in fraud. Her first assignment? That book Cox had written, “The Associates.”
From Cox's novel: Anyone can steal money and run but disappearing forever is extremely difficult. They’d need driver’s licenses and credit cards.
Morrison: Did you know that he had written a book?
Hauck: No. And when I read it, I was just floored. I couldn’t believe it. As we got on the run together, I saw how he did things. And it all referenced back to how the book was.
And here is precisely what the “hero” does in Matthew’s book: First, with his female accomplice, he rents a home, just like this one they did rent in an Atlanta suburb. Next, the fictional character opened accounts at several banks in the area to launder the cash that was to come. Cox did just that. Then, just as his character had, Cox forged a document and filed it at the courthouse, claiming the mortgage on the home was paid off.
Hauck: Then he’d start hitting high-end lenders and telling them he owned the property free and clear.
Lenders like John Holman had no idea he was playing the part of the fictional dupe.
John Holman: I loaned this fellow over $100,000 on a home that it turns out he didn’t own.
A private investor named Sam Dobrow also made a loan.
Morrison: You’ve lost something like $75,000- 80,000?
Sam Dobrow: Right. And my partner’s who in this with me has another $50,000.
With house after house, records would reveal, the plan he’d dreamed up in a story, worked to perfection in real life.
They hit Tallahassee, where Rebecca got more involved. Now it was she who claimed to own a house. She went to the closing, under another stolen identity.
Morrison: Was there some point at which he said, “Okay, you’re in it as deep as I am”?
Hauck: Mm-hmm. On our drive home he’s like, “well, you’re in it. You’ve done it.”
Morrison: So now you’re Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde?
Hauck: Yeah, I guess.
They felt untouchable, Even slipping out of the country for a trip to Jamaica, where pictures of them were taken. They seemed like a couple of carefree Americans on holiday.
But as she got in deeper, things began to change. Even before Jamaica, the romance had cooled. Cox, who at 5’6 could never be mistaken for Brad Pitt or George Clooney, began belittling Rebecca.
Hauck: He would tell me, you’d be perfect if you just had some plastic surgery done -breast implants.
Morrison: But you didn’t want breast implants right?
Hauck: No, not really.
But implants she got a $15,000 job at a plastic surgery center outside Atlanta.
Morrison: Then why’d you do it?
Hauck: Beause I wanted him to want me. Because he kept telling me he wasn’t physically attracted to me. Everything I tried to do was trying to make him want to be with me.
Hauck: No still no. I just was flabbergasted. What do I have to do? I gave up my family, my life, my kid you know? I had plastic surgery. What do I have to do to show you how much you mean to me, when you’re telling me I’m never gonna be good enough for you?
Morrison: Why didn’t you walk away?
Hauck: I was afraid.
But, if she was in some ways trapped in this cage, it was certainly a gilded one...
Morrison: So you lived in a great apartment?
Hauck: MM-hmm. I drove a G-35 Infiniti.
Morrison: Great clothes, make up, hair? nails done?
Hauck: Yes, exactly. I had everything.
But slowly, Rebecca Hauck was coming to realize that despite all the trappings—life in the shadows, always looking over her shoulder, was not so glamorous after all. And things were heating up: Atlanta-area lenders who’d been stiffed began alerting authorities about Cox’s schemes.
Gale McKenzie, assistant U.S. attorney, Atlanta: The number of victims, the number of stolen identities used, the number of prior mortgages that are erased—all of that makes this case very unique.
Morrison: Now this guy was good!
McKenzie: Very good! Once were within three weeks of capturing him… we were that close.
The Feds seized bank accounts, and they say they grabbed several hundred thousand dollars of Cox’s ill-gotten gains.
Morrison: Before he had a chance to get at it?
McKenzie: Before he had a chance to launder it yes.
Morrison: So he would’ve known you were pretty close at that point?
McKenzie: He knew we were very close at that point.
News stories began to appear, describing a slash-and-burn mortgage march through Atlanta by the fugitives.
Hauck: My picture was everywhere on the news. And I got really scared then. I’m like, “No no no no no—I can’t do this anymore.” And I told him that night, I’m like, “I gotta go.” And I had a panic attack and I freaked out. And he grabbed me by the throat, threw me on the ground, and started choking me saying “You’re not gonna get me caught! Be quiet! You’re not gonna get me caught!” And that was the first time it scared me.
And yet, once again, Matthew Cox gave his pursuers the slip. He and Rebecca headed north to Columbia, South Carolina, where with a new, stolen identity -Gary Sullivan—he bought another house.
Dr. Bruce Brown: In our case he closed on six loans in the span of few days on our property, and another house closed on five to six loans within the span of a week.
Dr. Bruce Brown and his wife were leaving the Army, selling their first home when they met Cox.
Morrison: So we’re talking about a dozen closings in a week?
Brown: All with separate attorneys, separate real estate agents—
Morrison: And different identities in many of ‘em?
Brown: Different identities.
Novel: The prankster in Christian couldn’t help but add a flair to the forgeries.
So brazen was Cox that on one mortgage he even was said to have signed the name ‘C. Montgomery Burns,’ — a character from the TV show, “The Simpsons.”
Was it arrogance, hubris? Maybe it was simple karma, then... that the luck which greased this long string of scams was about to run out..
Hauck: He called me and said, you may have to be on your own. I’ve just been picked up.
By the spring of 2005, Rebecca Hauck and the mortgage fraud mastermind Matthew Cox hadbeen on the run for 18 months, weaving their way north from Tampa.
They were suspected of juggling dozens of identities, including those stolen from former acquaintances.
Scott Cugno: I believe he’s a genius.
Forging documents, taking money out of homes, they left homeowners and lenders fighting over the chaos.
Sam Dobrow: It’s a chess game, and every time he walks out of closing it’s checkmate…
And remember, Cox had also left behind the woman who’d become his first accomplice. And while Cox and his new partner ran, Alison Arnold was increasingly haunted by the crimes she helped commit—just like a character in that novel Cox has written years before.
Excerpt from the novel: This poor girl was trapped in a spot Houdini couldn’t have gotten out of. It was very possible she may spend the next 15 to 20 years in federal prison.
Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. And so she picked up the phone, and called the FBI, before the bureau came to her.
Alison Arnold: They would have knocked on my door. And I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to get it over with. I knew that what goes up must come down.
But Matthew Cox had no such fear. The step-by-step schemes that investigators said he’d laid out years earlier in a novel of all things, had worked out perfectly. His take? Authorities estimated some $5 million.
Morrison: Does he think other people are stupid?
Rebecca Hauck: Yeah, he thinks he’s smarter than everybody. Like, he would make comments, ‘we’re not commoners’.
Morrison: “We’re not commoners”?
Hauck: He would say stuff like that. I truly believe he believes it, that he’s better than people.
And then one day, in the spring of 2005, Rebecca was briefly alone and her phone rang.
Hauck: He called me and said, “You may have to be on your own. I’ve just been picked up.” I was distraught, I could not even fathom what would happen to me if he wasn’t there.
Morrison: How would you live?
Finally, it had happened. A sharp-eyed court clerk in Columbia, South Carolina had noticed Cox had put several mortgages on two houses, in a matter of days. A fraud alert was issued on one of his money-laundering bank accounts. And so, there were photos of Cox inside the very bank, where his luck was about to run out. He was taken into custody just outside.
Hauck: He actually got taken to the police department. And they had him in custody.
They brought him to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in Columbia, South Carolina. It was the end of one audacious crime spree.
The man deputies were questioning told them his name was Gary Lee Sullivan. Which was, in fact, one of his 30 or so fake IDs. And since there was no warrant for any Gary Lee Sullivan, they let him go. Matthew Cox simply walked away.
Morrison: How frustrating was that for you?
Gale McKenzie, assistant U.S. attorney: Extremely frustrating.
Morrison: So close!
McKenzie: So very close.
Cox had slipped away, and he soon re-joined Rebecca.
But she knew something was changing. Her face, she knew, had shown up on wanted posters.
And she’d recently caught Cox trolling the very spot where he’d found her: Match.com.
That could mean only one thing: he was looking for a new accomplice.
She was finished.
Hauck: As we’re driving, he’s like, “We need to do this again.” I’m like, “No, I am not gonna do this again.” I go, “I can’t do this. Enough’s enough. It’s over.” And I think that’s when it clicked with him that i wasn’t gonna do it any more. We got into an argument. I went and got in the bath, and he left. Left everything.
Morrison: You came out of the bathroom and he was gone…
Hauck: He left me enough probably to live for about six, seven months.
Once, he’d swept her off her feet—showered her with clothes, and cash and diamonds. And, she says, he made her his partner in crime. And now he was, simply, gone.
Morrison: Would you have stayed with him right through to the end?
Hauck: I had every intention when I left with him, yeah. To the end.
Morrison: “Stick it out no matter what.” Go down in a blaze of glory?
Morrison: Really be Bonnie and Clyde. That was a romantic image in a way, wasn’t it?
Hauck: I wanted to be loved unconditionally. I wanted… yes, I think so.
Rebecca found herself alone, now in Houston, where they had come to find new victims.
Instead, Rebecca settled into a quiet life on the lam. She made new friends, changed her hair color, and once again, picked a new name.
Morrison: What do they know you as?
Hauck: Rebecca Sue Hickey.
And as Rebecca Sue Hickey, in Houston, she says she went straight. She worked as a bartender and attended cosmetology school.
But beyond that, she says, she spent nearly every waking moment missing the son she’d left at the Tampa airport. Bryce was 15 now. She hadn’t seen him or spoken to him in two years.
Morrison: Were you holding back those tears all those months you were away from him?
Hauck: I cried a lot about him. I’d look at his pictures. He had a MySpace page and I typed in his name and his thing came up. And I was floored.
Morrison: How often did you check MySpace?
Hauck: Probably four or five times a day.
For nearly a year, she says, she lived and worked and pined for her son… and waited.
Then one day, in March 2006, the Secret Service came walking into that cosmetology school.
What would happen now that Rebecca Hauck a.k.a. Rebecca Sue Hickey, a.k.a. Grace Hudson was finally caught?
Hauck: When they came and picked me up, i just felt like, I was scared but I felt this big relief.
By March 2006, Rebecca Hauck had been on her own in Houston for nearly a year since the day fraud artist Matthew Cox drove out of her life.
Rebecca Sue Hickey, as she was known to her friends, had been living in this apartment, going to cosmetology school, and working as a bartender, when one day, the Secret Service came calling.
Rebecca Hauck: I just felt like, I was scared but I felt this big relief, like “You know what? Let’s start it. This is the beginning of the end. Let me just get this done.”
Two-and-a-half years after Rebecca Hauck and Matthew Cox began papering the South with phony mortgages, stealing from property owners, and banks, and title companies from Florida to Georgia and South Carolina—one half of this Bonnie and Clyde duo—Bonnie at least was in custody.
And once she was caught, Rebecca admitted everything. She pleaded guilty to fraud, identity theft, money laundering and conspiracy. She was sentenced to almost six years in federal prison. And was ordered to pay back more than $one million.
She sat down with us for an interview at the federal detention center in Atlanta.
Hauck: I wanna believe in love but you gotta love yourself. You can’t let somebody else manipulate you the way that…
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: You just turned over your life to him.
Hauck: Oh completely, my body, my life my spirit—everything to him.
Morrison: Are you a victim?
Hauck: I feel I am. But I also know that I’m responsible for what I did do.
Morrison: ‘Cause you know as soon as you say in your orange jumpsuit, I’m a victim, you can just hear all across the country, millions of people saying...
Hauck: Whatever. Yeah, I know. Sure I’m an adult, I made a bad decision that I know and I have to... I’ve hurt people too because of it.
Morrison: Do you know how many lives you and he have impoverished? How many financial lives you’ve thrown into turmoil? And how many people have been screwed up for years?
Morrison: How many people’s credit has been destroyed? How many insurance companies had to pay out? What kind of chaos you’ve created? Do you know that?
Hauck: Yeah. I think about it a lot.
Morrison: But did you at the time?
Hauck: No because he would make me believe that’s why the title companies are there/is to pay the people off. They’re not gonna be in trouble—a penny from every person he would say, and I believed him.
Of course, Rebecca Hauk is not the only woman who fell for Matthew Cox.
Alison Arnold: I trusted him with my life basically.
There was, remember, Alison Arnold, who seemed to realize a little sooner than Rebecca just how much trouble she had helped cause. She chose to turn herself in to the FBI and offer a full confession, pleading guilty to numerous charges, including conspiracy to commit bank fraud and identity theft.
She was ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution to her victims and she was sentenced to two years behind bars.
Morrison: Has it been worth it? This price you paid?
Arnold: Yes its worth it, because before turning myself in I was living more in prison than I do today. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to be Matt living under a completely different alias and damaging more people. Hurting more people. Stealing from middle class America.
On November 15th, 2006 Rebecca Hauck was sentenced to nearly six years in prison.
Now, one thing remained: To catch her accomplice in fraud, the accused con man behind it all— Matthew Cox.
Those who’d lost money on his alleged scams hoped that somehow, he’d still get what was coming to him—
Holman: This is a very hard crime to stop. That’s the reason we need to get this guy off the street.
Brown: He just, at the closing table was nice and kind as could be, but the whole time, he was taking us to the cleaners.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: How angry are you all three?
Dobrow: I’m pretty angry. I’m not a violent person but I would sure like to see this guy locked away for a very long time.
Morrison: What drives him? Is it the money..is it..?
U.S. Attorney Gale McKenzie: It’s the money and the game.
U.S. Attorney Gale McKenzie’s manhunt had now gone nationwide.
Law enforcement was alerted to his many aliases, and the habits that could give him away: His love for vanilla lattes at Starbucks, movies about criminals, the habit of painting huge murals in a very specific style, and the method of using young single mothers as accomplices.
Morrison: More than likely then, some other young woman is setting herself up for a stay in a federal prison somewhere?
McKenzie: That is a real possibility.
And then, out of the blue, there was news.
And it happened on the very week Rebecca Hauck was sentenced in Atlanta.
There was a tip from Nashville, Tennessee, just 200 miles away: It was a babysitter who said something about a man she worked for didn’t seem right.
He called himself Joseph Carter from Florida, she said. He lived with this single mother. She’d done some research on the Web, and bingo—there he was, a wanted man.
Secret Service Agents scrambled to a home in Nashville but it was empty. Matthew Cox was gone.
Where was Matthew Cox? Had somebody tipped him off? Well in fact the truth was too strange to make up. Just days before, Cox had learned what it felt like to become the victim of a crime. Armed robbers had burst into his house, and stolen watches, cash, a car. An Infiniti, of course. And Cox became so worried that somebody was after him that he scooped up his new girlfriend, and her son and moved into a hotel.
Amanda Gardner: He said he would take care of me, he said he would take care of my son, he’d do his best to make sure that we were happy…
Her name is Amanda Gardner. She said she and Cox or “Carter” as she knew him, had set up a home remodeling business, the “Nashville Restoration Project.”
Gardner: I was completely and totally dumbstruck in love…
Amanda had settled down with a man who took her to Greece on vacation, loved crime movies, and vanilla lattes from Starbucks. And sure enough, he asked her to have breast enhancement surgery.
And then, one day, Cox and Amanda returned home from that hotel where they were hiding.
On November 16th, just like that, Matthew Cox was caught. He was taken down by Secret Service agents who’d been searching for him for two long years.
And his new girlfriend denied any wrongdoing. She claimed she was a victim too—sounding a lot like the last two.
Gardner: I learned that he was not the caring, giving person that I thought he was. I learned that he was unscrupulous, he damaged my business, and he sabotaged a year worth of my work because he got greedy.
And so we now find ourselves back at the beginning of our story—or more accurately, at the ending of Cox’s novel.
Cox’s novel: “I am not a criminal,” Christian continued to tell himself. He had not meant for anyone to get hurt.
Cox’s ending, it turns out, was indeed a fairytale. People had been hurt. Authorities do consider him a criminal.
Novel: He was free and about to start a new adventure. A new life in a new country…
There’ll be no sailing away on an ocean-bound cruise ship, no millions in cash, no girl by his side.
Instead, Matthew Cox faces charges which, if he’s convicted, could put him in federal prison for decades.
McKenzie: The book is fiction, and the real life ending is yet to be written.
His lawyers say Matthew Cox is expected to plead guilty to a laundry list of charges as part of a plea bargain deal with the government. He may be sentenced in the next two months.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints