Judge raps Tollefson, sends fraud case to trial

Don Tollefson has not yet entered a plea to the charges.
Don Tollefson has not yet entered a plea to the charges.
Posted: May 31, 2014

In some ways, Don Tollefson's court appearance Thursday was much like his first months ago.

It was brief and the former sportscaster said little. He and his attorney declined to address claims that he sold bogus travel packages to sports events, instead agreeing to forgo a preliminary hearing on fraud charges.

What was different came from an unlikely source: the district judge, who instead of simply rubber-stamping the case for trial, lit into Tollefson like a scorned fan.

"This whole affair is a big disappointment to everyone in the Delaware Valley," Judge Daniel Finello, 63, a longtime Bucks resident and a high school soccer coach since the days when Tollefson was one of the highest-paid sportscasters in town. "Every night, you gave some solace to us after a hard day."

Tollefson, 61, didn't respond to the judge. He has not yet formally entered a plea to the charges.

But he and his attorney, Sharif Abaza, said they waived the hearing to spare the victims of his alleged ticket-selling scheme from having to testify.

After the proceeding, Tollefson and Abaza declined to discuss the judge's unusual pretrial scolding. Finello did not respond to a request for comment.

But his remarks echoed what some of Tollefson's alleged victims have been saying for months.

Tollefson was arrested in February for allegedly selling bogus travel packages to sporting events in the name of charity. For instance, tickets to the Super Bowl or an out-of-town Eagles game often never materialized, nor did some of the promised hotel rooms and airfare, police said.

The investigation continues, and, at last count, Tollefson had scammed about 150 people out of about $250,000, Deputy Bucks County District Attorney Ryan Hyde said.

After their court appearance, Tollefson and Abaza offered the same response Tollefson has been giving for months - that he has an addiction and has been in recovery. They left unanswered the questions about how the former sportscaster - once Philadelphia's highest-paid - could be facing such allegations.

Tollefson thanked the throng of reporters for respecting the privacy of his estranged wife and 4-year-old daughter, who live in their home in Wyndmoor without him.

"As you may know, I'm separated and living in the city in a North Philadelphia apartment," he said.

He then shook hands with several reporters and even gave one a hug before driving off with Abaza.

Several witnesses were prepared to testify at the hearing, including the parents of Brad Fox, a Plymouth Township police officer killed in the line of duty in 2012. Tollefson had spoken at a charity for the officer's wife and two children in Warminster in April 2013 and allegedly sold several phantom packages for an Eagles game in Denver.

Fox's parents left the hearing without commenting. But Cindy Moffitt, who bought one of the allegedly bogus travel packages and was prepared to testify, said she wanted to make sure "justice is served."

"We looked up to him and now we can't trust him," she said. "And it's a little bit heartbreaking."


bfinley@phillynews.com

610-313-8118

@Ben_Finley

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