Fresno ex-Congressman TJ Cox taking plea deal in federal fraud, money laundering case

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Former San Joaquin Valley Congressman TJ Cox is accepting a plea deal in a federal case where he faces wire fraud, money laundering and other criminal charges, court documents filed Wednesday show.

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

A lawyer for Cox and lawyers for the government requested the date of the hearing be July 29 “to allow the parties to finalize plea terms and file change of plea documents,” the filing read.

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

Generally, a change of plea hearing occurs when a defendant changes their plea from “not guilty” to “guilty” for a criminal charge or charges. A change of plea hearing lets a judge hear the terms of a plea agreement.

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

The criminal penalties carry a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for wire fraud and money laundering; up to 30 years and a $1 million fine for wire fraud against a financial institution; and a maximum of five years and a $250,000 fine for campaign contribution fraud.

Charges date back to business Cox was conducting 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 perpetrated “multiple fraud schemes” targeting companies he was affiliated with and their clients and lenders.

The allegations relate to four different roles: when he was the head of a Fresno company aimed at assisting development investment in financially distressed areas through the New Market Tax Credit; a partner in a nonprofit that leased the troubled Granite Park Sports Complex in central Fresno from the city of Fresno; a partner in an almond processing company; and a candidate for Congress in 2018.

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

The indictment also alleged campaign contribution violations from straw donors. Prosecutors said he gave more than $25,000 to business associates and family members so they could look like they were donating to his 2018 campaign for Congress.

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

The Fresno Bee’s Bob Rodriguez and Thaddeus Miller contributed to this story.