Former Philadelphia sportscaster convicted in charity scam
Jan. 21, 2015
DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) — A former Philadelphia sportscaster was convicted Wednesday of selling bogus sports-themed trips that he said would help various charities.
Jurors deliberated for nearly 12 hours before convicting 62-year-old Donald Tollefson on all counts.
Bucks County prosecutors accused Tollefson of defrauding more than 200 sports fans out of $340,000 worth of sports travel packages that never materialized. Prosecutors called the set-up "a classic Ponzi scheme."
He portrayed himself as a bad businessman who tried to help too many charities and ran out of money, but denied having profited from the ventures. He also said he was treated last year at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.
Tollefson earlier pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors calling for a seven-month sentence followed by 14 months of drug treatment. But he later withdrew the plea and represented himself after he was denied a court-funded attorney.
Tollefson was long an amiable on-air presence in the Philadelphia area, where he was the sports director at WPVI-TV, the local ABC affiliate, and later covered sports and news for other stations.
He grew up in Menlo Park, California, and attended Stanford University, according to an online biography posted on the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia website.
"I feel humiliating guilt and remorse. I am so angry that I let people down. I want them to know how sorry I am," Tollefson said after the verdict, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
"I think he's a good guy," jury foreman Eric Dreyfus of Yardley told the newspaper. "But the evidence was there."
Tollefson faces up to 37 years in prison, although he will likely get far less time given that he has no prior record.
He has said that his problems with alcohol were compounded after a 2008 car crash left him addicted to narcotics as well.