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Maryland Travel Agent Scams $433,000 From Customers
A Maryland based travel agent will be serving three years in prison and pay close to $433,000 in reimbursements for fraud committed to her customers.
In 2019, customers purchased “discounted” cruise packages from Diana Hopkins of Hopkins Travel Services based in Florida. Instead, Hopkins was using the payments to cover the trips of other customers. Hopkins pleaded guilty to the accusations and stated greed didn’t fuel her actions, it was issues with her gambling addiction.
“I believe in my heart, and I’ve represented many people accused of white-collar criminal fraud, that Ms. Hopkins solely committed this crime as a result of a gambling addiction,” stated Mark O’Brien, who spoke with WFTS Tampa following her sentencing hearing on Monday.
Hopkins lawyer O’Brien requested she gets a lesser sentence after pleading guilty. He also told the court Hopkins needs additional treatment for her addiction and cares for 12 foster children. “She knows that the individuals placed trust in her as a travel agent and she violated that trust,” said O’Brien.
The judge sentenced Hopkins to 37 months in federal prison and a restitution of $432,939. The State of Florida has also moved to release the children she has under her Foster Care. The State of Florida has also moved to release the children she has under her Foster Care.
“I want to see everyone that is out of money get their money back,” said Karen Regan, a former customer of Hopkins in 2019. At the time, Regan thought she had booked the cruise of her dreams at a deal. “I had learned about it through a friend of mine who went to high school with Diana Hopkins and a bunch of their friends traveled with her before, no problem, so I trusted it,” Regan said. Then Regan convinced 60 of her friends from other parts of Maryland to cruise with her in May of 2021. “We couldn’t pass it up, it was cheap,” said Regan.
Buy One Get One Free
But Hopkins advertised a phony “buy-one, get-one free” deal that never existed. After a federal investigation, prosecutors realized Hopkins was using customer credit cards to make the payments on other clients’ reservations. “She used people’s cards all over the place,” Regan added.
In 2019 WMAR-2 News exposed Hopkins’ operation when customers sent Norwegian Cruise Line invoices to Mallory Sofastii, investigative reporter for Baltimore’s ABC 2 News. All their cruises were canceled once all parties involved suspected Hopkins of credit card fraud. There was one incident, Hopkins charged $2,300 for a trip, that actually cost $7,000. Hopkins used 12 cards to make the payments and only 3 of those credit cards belonged to the actual customer. “She was stealing from Peter to pay Paul and, unfortunately, it caught up to her,” stated O’Brien. Norwegian Cruise Line refunded Regan and her friends for the charges made by Hopkins.
Hopkins’ lawyer claims she already reimbursed 91 out of the 320 customers and 7 corporate entities she scammed with her travel agency.
In Maryland, there’s no license or certification required to be a travel agent, which is why it’s important for consumers to research who they’re working with. A certification or license isn’t required to become a travel agent. Consumers should take the necessary steps to research agencies offering “too good to be true” deals.