Tampa Bay travel agent pleads guilty to defrauding customers

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TAMPA BAY, Fla. — Hopkins Travel Services owner Diana Hopkins has peddled cruises through paradise for a fraction of going rates. She sold the fantasy to Karen Regan, 60 of her friends and others. And then she used the customers’ money for cruises for her and her family. Months after booking “buy one, get one free” packages, the Norwegian cruise line canceled the trips, accusing Hopkins of committing credit card fraud.

Customers, including Regan, had been told the trip cost $7,000. The actual price was $23,000.

“It was the trip of a lifetime and none of us got to go,” Regan said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida filed charges against Hopkins on March 4, accusing him of selling cruise packages to guests, taking hundreds of thousands of dollars for their trips, and then spending them on herself. Now, according to federal court, Hopkins has agreed to plead guilty.

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Hopkins, who lives in Wimauma, was charged with wire fraud, access device fraud and illegal money transactions in connection with her business activities between April 2017 and September 2019. The government said she misrepresented travel deals and made Ponzi-like payments on customer bookings. and used the victims’ money to pay for personal and family expenses, including $24,500 for payment for a 2019 Dodge Ram. The victims’ financial losses totaled $508,000.

Regan said she and her friends got lucky and got their money back.

“But we still want to see her charged and to see her pay for what she did to all of us,” Regan said.

Other customers are still waiting for their money.

Hopkins’ attorney, Mark O’Brien, told ABC Action News in an email, “My client sincerely apologizes for any harm she has caused to one of her victims. She has worked very hard to process refunds for many of her clients and will continue to do so. She entered her guilty plea because she is guilty. she accepts full responsibility for her actions.

That liability, according to his signed guilty plea agreement, includes returning $508,883.78 to the victims. The next court date is April 12 in Tampa, where Hopkins is expected to plead guilty. The sentence is set at 90 days after the hearing. She faces up to 40 years in prison, but because she has accepted responsibility, she may not receive the harshest sentence.

The FBI did not specify the number of victims involved, but anyone who has not yet come forward is urged to file a report with the agency.

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