Travel Agent Sentenced To Prison For Fraud On Clients, Cruise Lines And Payment Processors
Tampa, Florida – U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew today sentenced Diana M. Hopkins (48, Wimauma) to 37 months in federal prison for wire fraud, access device fraud, and money laundering. As part of her sentence, the Court also entered an order of forfeiture in the amount of $115,995.67, the proceeds of the charged criminal conduct, and ordered her to pay restitution in the amount of $432,938.64. Hopkins had pleaded guilty on April 12, 2022.
According to court documents, Hopkins owned and operated Hopkins Travel Services LLC (“HTS”) in Wimauma, Florida. From about April of 2017 through September 2019, Hopkins used HTS to commit wire fraud and access device fraud and to engage in illegal monetary transactions. Specifically, Hopkins made false and fraudulent misrepresentations in soliciting clients via Facebook, a website (www.htsvacationdeals.com) and other means, to purchase cruise packages through HTS at discounted prices and/or “buy one get one” deals, which fares were well below what the cruise lines actually offered and the amounts that HTS had to pay or would ultimately pay for clients’ cruises. Hopkins made additional misrepresentations in offering clients further discounts and/or additional travel amenities to induce them to make payments for cruise package reservations and related travel arrangements in full and well in advance of the clients’ cruise sail dates.
Hopkins caused some clients to provide credit card information ostensibly for the purpose of paying for their cruise package reservations and related travel arrangements, and then used the credit card information to make Ponzi-style payments on other clients’ reservations via the cruise lines’ reservation portals, without any of the clients’ knowledge or consent. In fact, when Hopkins input credit card information into the cruise lines’ reservation portals, she altered the names associated with certain credit card information so that said names matched the names on the cruise package reservations to which she applied the payments.
Hopkins caused other clients to make payments via Stripe, Square, PayPal and other ePayment services, and she caused the payments to be transferred into bank accounts she controlled. Then Hopkins used proceeds of some clients’ ePayments to make Ponzi-style payments on other clients’ reservations via the cruise lines’ reservation portals, without any of the clients’ knowledge or consent.
Moreover, Hopkins used a portion of her clients’ payments made for cruise package reservations and related travel arrangements to pay for personal and family expenses for, among other things, groceries, restaurants, retail shopping, and other household items and services, and otherwise for her own personal enrichment. Such expenditures included, but were not limited to, cruises for family members, jewelry, and a 2019 Dodge Ram 1500.
In total, Hopkins’ offenses resulted in financial losses to the victims in the amount of approximately $461,823.38. She personally received at least $91,495.67 in fraudulent proceeds, and she used an additional $24,500 in fraudulent proceeds towards the purchase of the 2019 Dodge Ram.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Rachelle DesVaux Bedke.