BALTIMORE — A Florida travel agent with ties to Baltimore now faces federal charges.
In 2019, News WMAR-2 Mallory Sofastaii the first reported federal authorities were investigating Diana Hopkins of Florida-based Hopkins Travel Services.
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Many Baltimore-area customers had purchased deeply discounted cruise packages from Hopkins, then learned that their plans had suddenly been canceled after she was suspected of committing credit card fraud.
More than two years later, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Intermediate District of Florida (USAOMDFL) filed charges against Hopkins.
She is accused of committing wire fraud, access device fraud and illegal monetary transactions in the course of her business activities between April 2017 and September 2019.
According to the statement of charges filed March 4, Hopkins falsely and fraudulently presented travel offers and made “Ponzi-like payments” on other customers’ bookings without the customers’ knowledge or consent.
Customers sent Sofastaii copies of their trip cancellation invoices. In one example, the customer was told a trip for two cost $2,300, but the invoice says it was $7,000. Of the 12 payment cards used to make this reservation, only three belonged to the customer.
“It was a trip of a lifetime and none of us got to go,” said Karen Regan, who organized a trip to Greece with Hopkins Travel Services for herself and 60 other people in the areas of Dundalk, Essex and Pasadena.
Months after booking “buy one, get one free” packages, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) canceled the trips after accusing Hopkins of committing credit card fraud.
According to the USAOMDFL, the victims’ financial losses amounted to more than $508,000.
Hopkins is also accused of using a portion of her customers’ payments for personal expenses, including groceries, restaurants, jewelry, retail purchases, cruises for family members and a 2019 Dodge Ram 1500.
” We were lucky. All my almost 60 people got our money back [from NCL]but we still want to see her charged and to see her pay for what she did to all of us,” Regan said.
Hopkins does not dispute the government’s case.
She signed a guilty plea agreement that requires her to return $508,883.78 in full to the victims in the case.
His attorney sent WMAR-2 News this statement:
“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 has entered her guilty plea because she is guilty, she takes full responsibility for her actions.
– Mark J. O’Brien, attorney representing Hopkins
“Some people got their money back fighting their cards, a lot of people are still missing thousands of dollars. It’s really sad,” Regan said.
Hopkins has filed for bankruptcy in the past, but laws prevent her from paying restitution if she were to file again in the future.
READ MORE: Travel agent suspected of fraud files for bankruptcy
Her next court date is April 12 in Tampa where she is expected to plead guilty. Sentencing is expected to take place 90 days after the hearing.
Hopkins still faces up to 40 years in prison, however, his sentence will be based on certain guidelines and could include downward adjustments for acceptance of responsibility.
The USAOMDFL declined to comment and said the number of victims involved in this case is not available at this time.
Anyone who has not yet come forward is encouraged to contact the FBI Field Office in Tampa at (813) 253-1000.
In Maryland, no license or certification is required to be a travel agent, which is why it is important for consumers to research who they are working with.
Sarah Kline, president of Time for Travel Ltd. in Davidsonville, Md., has provided these tips for finding a travel agent you can trust.
READ MORE: Find a travel agent who can offer you the vacation of your dreams