Former Carolina Panthers player sentenced in Wax House mortgage fraud scheme

Former Carolina Panthers player Jimmy Hitchcock has been sentenced to almost four years in federal prison for his role in a mortgage fraud scheme, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Hitchcock, 43, pleaded guilty to one count each of mortgage fraud conspiracy, bank bribery conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy in federal court in Charlotte. He was arrested as part of the government’s “Wax House” mortgage fraud probe.

The investigation targeted a mortgage fraud cell in Union and Mecklenburg counties involving at least $100 million in loans and 80 houses during the housing bubble years of 2006 to 2008, according to federal prosecutors. A total of 91 people have been charged in the case so far, 87 of whom have pleaded or been found guilty.

Here’s how the scheme worked: Buyers agreed with sellers that they would purchase a new house at its true price. Then arranged buyers, who would pretend to have the assets to buy the homes, would take out a loan to buy the house from them at an inflated value, generally $200,000 to $500,000 over its actual value. At closing, the participants in the scheme would split the difference.

Hitchcock helped further the scheme by creating false documents, such as “official checks” that made it appear buyers had made down payments when they really had not, prosecutors said. Hitchcock also recruited a “bank insider” who he bribed in order to get fake deposit verifications.

The fraudulent transactions Hitchcock participated in ended up costing lenders $4.5 million, prosecutors said. He received about $500,000 worth of proceeds.

Hitchcock is a Concord native who attended UNC Chapel Hill. He played eight seasons in the National Football League, beginning as a third-round draft pick for the New England Patriots in 1995. His best season came three years later, in 1998, when the defensive back led the league with 242 interception yards and three defensive touchdowns. He played cornerback for the Panthers in 2000 and 2001 before returning to the Patriots, where he finished his career in 2002.

Hitchcock will serve 46 months in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release.