She made up a son to collect benefits for 17 years. Now she’s going to prison.

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A 61-year-old Fort Bragg widow will spend 14 months in federal prison for using a fictitious son to collect more than $100,000 in veterans’ and Social Security benefits.

Between 2000 and 2017, Elizabeth Hayes Cox stole more than $68,000 in Social Security money and another $44,000 from the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of Oliver McCain Cox, a minor who did not exist, according to her 2018 indictment.

Prosecutors said Wednesday Cox presented a fraudulent birth certificate to receive benefits on behalf of her then-husband who was a disabled veteran. Cox had married her husband while he was in prison and received payments for their made-up dependent child.

“More than a decade ago,” said Cox, addressing U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle, “I made a bad decision on both a practical and moral level.”

Her Raleigh attorney, Kevin Marcilliat, asked for a more lenient sentence that would allow Cox to spend half the time at home with her real daughter Aimee Newman, a retired Army captain in Eastover.

He noted that Cox, who is recovering from hernia surgery and uses a walker, is making progress with mental health treatment and that the VA has recovered roughly $9,000 of the money since 2017.

But Boyle focused his questions on Cox’s spousal history, which includes a husband lost to murder and a boyfriend to suicide.

Her husband was murdered at home in High Point in 2006, according to testimony Wednesday. The case of Randall Cox, shot in the head, remains unsolved.

“Who killed your husband?” Boyle asked.

“I do not know, sir,” Cox answered, adding that she lived in Apex at the time.

In 2014, Cox said her boyfriend killed himself in the home they shared. Under questioning from Boyle, Cox said she found him in the kitchen but did not know where he got the gun or what type he used.

In a motion filed last week, Marcilliat asked the court to balance the seriousness of the charges against a history of abuse he described as a “sobering history of victimization at the hands of nearly all the men in her early life, as well as her advance physical and mental ailments with which (Bureau of Prisons) would be ill-equipped to manage.”

Boyle ordered her to report to federal prison by the end of February and pay the full $113,000 restitution.

Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.