updated 4/10/2007 3:56:53 PM ET 2007-04-10T19:56:53

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 will likely not receive that stiff a punishment.

As part of a deal Cox struck with the government, prosecutors have agreed to recommend that U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten sentence Cox at the low end of federal guidelines. The exact range has not been determined.

Cox, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and a white shirt underneath, 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. 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.

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

The Secret Service arrested Cox, one of its most-wanted fugitives, on Nov. 16, 2006, in Nashville on charges that he and a partner stole identities to take more than $1 million from victims in several Southern states. Prosecutors said Cox made statements to authorities about his activities, and he agreed to let the government seize his assets.

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

Prosecutors say Hauck and Cox rented properties, fraudulently erased mortgage liens on the properties and then stole the owners' identities and fraudulently took out multiple 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.

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.

At Tuesday's hearing, McKenzie disclosed that Cox also stole identities from children and people in drug rehab. She said Cox also used some of the stolen identities to obtain new birth certificates in the names of babies that did not exist. He would then use the new Social Security numbers for the fake babies to continue his fraud, McKenzie said.

Hauck, 34, and Cox were indicted on charges of bank fraud, wire fraud, interstate transportation of fraud proceeds, identity theft, money laundering and conspiracy. Hauck, who according to the prosecutor Cox met online, was arrested in March 2006 while living under a stolen identity in Houston.

Hauck previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years, 10 months in prison, followed by five years of supervised release. She was ordered to pay restitution of $1.2 million.

Cox, as part of his plea Tuesday, also agreed to pay restitution, though the amount has not yet been determined.

Cox was arrested after authorities received a tip from someone who had seen his picture on the Secret Service Web site. At the time, he was a fugitive from federal and county courts in Florida for a 2003 probation violation. He admitted to that violation as part of his plea agreement.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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