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A 36-year-old real estate developer accused of defrauded his investors for years began harassing his wife after they separated during the investigation, according to federal prosecutors.

Joshua Matthew Houchins is accused of calling his wife a “lying rat” and sending menacing photos of himself — in tactical gear in the woods — to her friends and family.

Prosecutors said he even searched “killing your wife over love” on the internet.

Houchins, who is from Raleigh, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and felony possession of a firearm in federal court on Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina said in a news release. He has been in jail since his arrest last year and is scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 20.

A defense attorney representing Houchins did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on Wednesday.

“With this plea, this office brings to justice a dangerous man who defrauded numerous real estate investors in North Carolina and elsewhere,” Acting U.S Attorney G. Norman Acker III said in the release.

According to a superseding indictment filed in August, Houchins ran three residential real estate development companies — Rossshire Development LLC, Greenstone Ventures LLC and Modern South Development LLC.

From 2014 to 2018, prosecutors said he solicited investors to purchase or renovate numerous properties in the Triangle area. He promised to give each investor a promissory note secured by a deed of trust that would allow them to foreclose on the property if he defaulted on the note.

In return, they were promised an 18% return on investment.

But Houchins didn’t “put to work” their investments as promised, the government said. Instead, he’s accused of using the money on other properties and personal expenses. He also never secured a deed of trust on the properties — some of which he didn’t even own, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors listed at least six properties with which he solicited the bogus investments, most of them residences. They estimated in court filings that Houchins made more than $1.5 million off the alleged fraud.

A grand jury began investigating Houchins in February 2018, the government said, but he didn’t know about it until a close associate was subpoenaed in March 2019. Houchins was served with his own subpoenas for information about the development properties in November 2019, but prosecutors said he never turned over more than a few documents.

He and his wife separated about a month later, according to the indictment.

In the weeks and months that followed, prosecutors said Houchins embarked on a campaign of harassment. He began drafting a document called “The Ultimate Betrayal” in February 2020 in which he said his wife helped him steal millions of dollars and that he had “destroyed all of the evidence to protect (her).” The document also reportedly referenced both of their deaths, saying, “May we rest in peace together!”

Houchins’ wife took out a temporary protection order against him in March 2020, the government said, which barred him from having a gun or contacting her.

Prosecutors said Houchins responded by telling friends his wife had “run to the police” and that he had “no mercy on a lying rat.”

A judge later granted his wife a year-long domestic violence order of protection, the indictment states.

By April 2020, the government said Houchins was sending harassing messages to his wife’s friends and family and threatening suicide. His internet searches reportedly included “murder for love” and “killing your wife over love.” Prosecutors said he also sent pictures of himself holding a gun and wearing a tactical vest in the woods.

When Houchins was arrested on May 18, 2020, the government said they found a Ruger AR-15, multiple magazines and more than 100 rounds of ammunition in his possession.

A grand jury indicted him the following day on multiple counts of wire fraud related to the real estate investments. They returned a superseding indictment in September with additional charges related to the firearms found in his possession.