T.J. Cox, former Valley congressman, indicted on 28 crimes, including fraud, illegal contributions

Wednesday, August 17, 2022
T.J. Cox, former Valley congressman, indicted on 28 crimes
A new federal grand jury indictment charges former Central Valley Congressman T.J. Cox with 28 crimes.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Former Valley Congressman T.J. Cox is facing a wide-ranging indictment charging him with more than two dozen crimes, including wire fraud and money laundering.

Federal investigators have spent years building a case against the Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 2019 through 2021.

On Tuesday, a judge unsealed the 28-count grand jury indictment prosecutors got against the former Democratic Congressman.

But because it went through a grand jury, Cox's defense attorney told Action News he can't comment yet because he doesn't know what kind of evidence the government has.

Legal analyst Tony Capozzi says that's by design.

"The only people who appear before a grand jury is the U.S. attorney and an FBI agent, the investigator in the case, and certain witnesses if the government calls them to testify before the grand jury," Capozzi said.

Cox faces 28 total charges - 15 counts of wire fraud, 11 counts of money laundering, one count of financial institution fraud on a mortgage, and one count of making illegal conduit contributions to his congressional campaign in 2017.

Prosecutors say he essentially stole about $1.7 million in loans and investments into his businesses.

The grand jury found evidence he defrauded investors in an almond processing company and a tax credit investment company, and he lied to get loans for Granite Park and for a home mortgage.

From 2013 until 2018, they say Cox opened "off-the-books" bank accounts and diverted client and company money into those accounts through false representations, pretenses, and promises.

Five of the felony counts involve Granite Park. The grand jury charged Cox with using his tax credit company to guarantee a $1.5 million construction loan. But prosecutors say he did that without consent from his co-owners.

That loan is now in default, and the city of Fresno could be asked to pay it off, even though it didn't guarantee the loan.

Cox's partner at Granite Park is Terance Frazier. He told Action News he had no involvement with the loan and wasn't aware of the case against his partner.

Capozzi says the indictment doesn't implicate any of Cox's partners.

"If they didn't know what was going on, criminally I don't think they have any exposure whatsoever," the legal analyst said. "Civilly, they may, that they should've known what was going on and didn't do their due diligence to make sure this wasn't happening."

But Capozzi says there could still be more to come from federal investigations into local politicians.

He says a lot of the charges will be tough to prove, but the easiest may be the charge that Cox funneled his own money to other people, who then donated that money to his campaign.

"You can track that," Capozzi said. "Apparently there was money taken out of his account and write to other people. They wrote their checks to the campaign, but it's traced back to his account."

Cox turned himself in to the Fresno County jail Tuesday morning. He made a virtual court appearance a few hours later and pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

A judge agreed to release without posting any bail as long as he gave up his passport, agreed to a travel restriction, makes no contact with witnesses in the case, and keeps himself separate from any involved businesses.

Capozzi says Cox is in deep trouble, but the evidence might not be as strong as the indictment.

"Maybe those were loans," he said of the money Cox moved into his personal bank accounts. "We don't know. We need to look into the documents and see why these things happen."

In the political world, nobody stepped up to defend Cox.

Assemblymember Rudy Salas, the Democrat running for Cox's former seat in the U.S. House told us "T.J. has disgraced himself."

And Congressman David Valadao, who lost to Cox in 2019 and beat him in 2021, says he tried to warn everybody.

"We all knew all along that T.J. was a shady person and it's just been proven today," said the Hanford Republican.

The indictment doesn't implicate any of Cox's partners, but Fresno City Councilmember Garry Bredefeld says the investigation could still lead to City Hall.

"We shall see where this goes, but I am grateful to law enforcement and to the FBI for bringing accountability," Bredefeld said.

If Cox is convicted on all the charges, the potential punishment is up to 105 years in prison, although Capozzi says it's going to be much less than that because of federal guidelines.

The bigger the loss prosecutors can prove, the longer the punishment, Capozzi said.

Read the indictment below: