WIMAUMA, FL – A Wimauma travel agent was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for defrauding customers and cruise lines.
U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew convicted Diana M. Hopkins, 48, of wire fraud, access device fraud, and money laundering. As part of his sentence, Bucklew also ordered Hopkins to forfeit the $115,995.67 in proceeds of his crime and pay $432,938.64 in restitution.
Hopkins pleaded guilty on April 12.
According to court documents, Hopkins owned and operated Hopkins Travel Services LLC in Wimauma. From April 2017 to approximately September 2019, Hopkins used the company to make false and fraudulent claims by soliciting customers through Facebook, a website (www.htsvacationdeals.com) and other ways to purchase cruise packages at discounted prices or “buy one, get one” deals, at discounted prices well below what the cruise lines actually offered.
Hopkins has also offered customers additional discounts and additional travel amenities to encourage them to make payments for cruise package reservations and related travel arrangements in full well in advance of customers’ cruise dates.
Hopkins asked customers to provide credit card information apparently in an effort to pay for their cruise package reservations and related travel arrangements, then used the credit card information to make Ponzi-style payments on the bookings of other customers through cruise line booking portals.
When Hopkins put credit card information in cruise line reservation portals, it changed the names associated with certain credit card information to match the names on cruise package reservations to which it applied the payments.
Hopkins asked other customers to make payments through Stripe, Square, PayPal and other electronic payment services, then transferred the payments to bank accounts it controlled. Once again, she used proceeds from some customers’ electronic payments to make Ponzi-like payments on other customers’ bookings through cruise line booking portals.
According to court documents, Hopkins used a portion of its customers’ payments made for cruise package reservations and related travel arrangements to pay for personal and family expenses, including groceries, restaurant meals, shopping at the retail, household goods and services. Among other things, she bought cruises for her family members, jewelry and a 2019 Dodge Ram 1500.
Records show Hopkins stole $461,823.38 and received at least $91,495.67 in proceeds, in addition to the $24,500 she used to purchase the 2019 Dodge Ram.
This case was investigated by the FBI.