TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Former Wimauma travel agent Diana Hopkins is heading to federal prison after pleading guilty to defrauding customers of more than a half a million dollars.
The buy-one-get-one cruise scheme was exposed in a Better Call Behnken investigation nearly three years ago.
Prosecutors say from April 2017 to Sept. 2019, Hopkins sold trips for fares that were below what cruise lines actually charged and used credit card information to make Ponzi-style payments on other clients’ reservations.
Investigators say she used the money to pay for cruises for her own family members, groceries, restaurants, shopping, jewelry and a Dodge Ram truck.
Hopkins’ attorney, Mark J. O’Brien, paints a different picture.
“Ms. Hopkins has a gambling addition like millions of Americans and unfortunately she betrayed the trust of her customers, her clients, and in some instances, people she knew,” O’Brien said.
When Investigator Shannon Behnken asked where the money went, he said, “I-4, Hard Rock Casino.”
As a result of the sentencing, O’Brien says DCF removed Hopkins’ 10 foster children from her home. He said she had foster children through the years and adopted two foster children.
“Deep down I think she’s a very, very good person with a good heart who made a mistake,” he said.
Customer Tami Hubinger says she thinks the sentence is fair.
“She knew what she was doing,” Hubinger said. “It wasn’t like just a simple mistake. It was definitely like preplanned and a lot of thought went into how she was shifting money this way and that way.”