Culminating an astonishing descent, former TV sportscaster Don Tollefson pleaded guilty Monday in a fraud scheme involving 200 victims and at least $317,000 in bogus travel packages supposedly sold to raise money for charity.
Wearing a gray suit, and appearing tired and gaunt, in a Doylestown courtroom, Tollefson, 61, told Bucks County Court Judge Rea B. Boylan that he had struggled with "45 years of alcoholism and drug addiction and multiple mental-health issues."
"I just really want the healing process to begin," Tollefson said after the proceeding, while paying the monthly fee at the county probation office for his ankle-bracelet monitor. "I really want people to understand, and heal myself."
Sentencing was deferred for 60 days to give defense attorney Sharif Abaza time to make a case for leniency, but Abaza said he did expect Tollefson to receive some jail time.
The investigation continues, said Matthew D. Weintraub, the Bucks County District Attorney's Office's chief prosecutor.
"We got a restitution request on Friday," Weintraub said. "It may never end."
Said victim Cindy Moffitt, who attended the proceeding, "We're just waiting for our money - still."
Tollefson was arrested in February for fraudulently selling packages. 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.
Victims included the family of Brad Fox, a police officer in Plymouth Township killed in the line of duty in 2012.
Tollefson was once the city's highest-paid sportscaster, described by Howard Cosell as the "most extraordinary talent I've ever encountered." Over the years, he became known for his charity work.
But at some point, according to police, Tollefson turned his celebrity and philanthropy into a ruse, selling travel packages at bargain prices to admirers who thought they were helping a cause.
Tollefson said that on Oct. 10, he will mark his first anniversary of sobriety.
Boylan said Tollefson's maximum jail term would be 37 years; however, under sentencing guidelines, he would serve nine to 16 months.
Tollefson had asked the District Attorney's Office if he could participate in a diversion program through the county's drug court, which would have allowed him to avoid jail time. Last week, Weintraub denied the application.
Weintraub said after the hearing that Tollefson was ineligible for several reasons, including the fact that he has not paid any restitution and that he lives outside Bucks County. Tollefson, who is separated from his wife, has been living in North Philadelphia.
Weintraub added that some of the victims were opposed to allowing Tollefson into the program.
Sam Melendez, 47, of Philadelphia, a senior account manager for Peco, lost $1,000 to Tollefson's scheme, saying he "trusted him completely" when he bought a Phillies travel package to a Dodgers game in California.
He said that until Monday, he was not sure whether Tollefson should be sentenced to jail time. But when Tollefson pleaded guilty, Melendez learned that Tollefson had duped about 200 people out of more than $300,000.
"That's a lot of money and a lot of people," Melendez said. "And the thing with the cop's family, that's really low. He needs to spend some time in jail."