Alleged Gambling Addiction Lands Tampa Woman In Prison

Written By JR Duren on August 25, 2022 - Last Updated on August 26, 2022
Florida travel agent bilked dozens of people in a Ponzi-style scheme

Gambling addictions tend to lead to sad stories. Few are as sad as the tale of Diana Hopkins. The Florida travel agent bilked dozens of people in a Ponzi-style scheme.

Hopkins’ attorney, Mark O’Brien, told a Tampa-area ABC affiliate that Hopkins took the money to feed her gambling addiction. Florida gambling isn’t allowed online, so she conceivably gambled at the state’s tribal-run casinos. O’Brien did not say.

“She used that money inappropriately, and she feels tremendous regret and sadness. And she is taking steps to receive help for her gambling addiction.”

Hopkins, a Tampa Bay-based travel agent, has been sentenced to three years in prison. She stole more than $400,000 in the scheme focused on cruises. Also, the Department of Children and Families revoked Hopkins’ foster parent license and removed 10 of 12 children from her home.

Hopkins used cruise money to buy truck, cruises, jewelry

A release from the Department of Justice Middle District of Florida laid out Hopkins’ scam. She ran a company called Hopkins Travel Services. From early 2017 to late 2019, she used Facebook, a website and “other means” to lure people into paying for cruises that were deeply discounted or “buy one, get one” deals.

Once Hopkins had her customers’ credit card information, she used it to pay off other clients’ cruises, the DOJ said.

“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.”

At other times, she had clients make payments to accounts she owned. She would then use some of the money to pay off other cruises, and some to pay for “personal and family expenses” that included:

  • Groceries
  • Retail shopping
  • Household items and services
  • Cruises for family members
  • Jewelry
  • A 2019 Dodge Ram 1500

In total, she spent more than $90,000 on personal expenses. Her scams resulted in more than $460,000 in losses for her victims.

Her actions led a judge to sentence her to 37 months in federal prison. Hopkins must pay back more than $430,00 to her victims.

Florida group provides help for gambling addictions

The DOJ release did not mention Hopkins’ gambling addiction. However, if her attorney is telling the truth, Hopkins is one of the millions of people who deal with problem gambling, according to the Florida Council on Responsible Gambling (FCRG).

“Most individuals who gamble do so for pleasure and without difficulty. However, there are people who cannot gamble with control – problem gamblers.”

A gambling addiction’s impact ripples out to many spheres of the gambler’s life, the FCRG said.

“When gambling in excess, the onset of an addiction can result in serious to severe short- and long-term difficulties. In addition to affecting an individual’s home life, financial status, career, education, social relationships, and physical or emotional health, gambling problems also impact those closest to the gambler.”

If you or someone you love or know is dealing with a gambling addiction, there is help. Anyone with a gambling problem can call 888-ADMIT-IT or go online for advice and information.

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JR Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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