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Tolly gets 2 to 4 years in prison for charity fraud

The disgraced ex-sportscaster blamed his $342,000 theft on alcohol and drug addictions rooted in childhood.

Cynthia Moffitt, who first reported Tollefson to police. (MICHAEL BRYANT/Staff Photographer)
Cynthia Moffitt, who first reported Tollefson to police. (MICHAEL BRYANT/Staff Photographer)Read more

HE SAT for hours, handcuffed with his head hanging low, at the defense table. When he finally spoke, he told the judge he was ashamed, owned his wrongdoing and vowed to make restitution, even if it took him decades.

But when deputies led disgraced ex-sportscaster Don Tollefson away to begin a two- to four-year sentence in state prison for fleecing $342,643 from 200 people (most of whom were donors to his charities), many of his victims in attendance trudged out of court scowling with disgust.

"Tolly," as he is known, is a "master manipulator" who played everyone, including the judge who sentenced him yesterday in the Bucks County Courthouse, they complained.

"The Foxes are very disappointed with the sentence. They don't feel like it was enough. It was a bizarre trial, to say the least, and a bizarre sentence," said Darren Meehan, executive director of the Officer Brad Fox 5K Foundation. Tollefson swindled the foundation, which raises money for the family of the slain Plymouth Township officer, out of thousands.

Cynthia Moffitt, the victim who first reported Tollefson to police, doubted Tollefson's remorse was genuine and doesn't expect him to repay the $500 he scammed from her. "I'm not happy - I would have hoped for more [prison time]," Moffitt said. "Hopefully, he will get the treatment he needs and not scam anyone else."

Tollefson, 62, once a sports anchor for Philadelphia's ABC and Fox affiliates, faced up to 37 years in prison for his conviction on three felony theft charges and two misdemeanor violations of state charity laws. He rejected a pretrial plea-deal offer of seven months in prison.

After a lengthy hearing yesterday at the courthouse in Doylestown, Bucks County Common Pleas Judge Rea Boylan sentenced him to two to four years in state prison and 15 years' probation. With good behavior and time served, he could get out in 14 months.

Boylan also ordered Tollefson to pay $164,528.20 in restitution, get cognitive-behavioral therapy for depression, narcissism and other mental problems, and have no contact with his victims. She recommended he serve his time at the medium-security state prison in Chester, which has a "therapeutic community" program for inmates who have struggled with substance abuse.

In deciding his sentence, Boylan said she weighed his long history of charitable work, his substance-abuse and mental-health problems and his status as a first-time offender. But the gravity of his crimes demanded prison time, she said.

"The integrity of all charities in our community has been affected by what happened here," Boylan said. "He has done a great deal of damage."

Since his arrest in February 2014, Tollefson has blamed his actions on drug and alcohol addictions that began when he was a teenager.

Yesterday, a psychologist called by defense attorney Robert E. Goldman stunned courtroom observers when he said Tollefson began to abuse alcohol as a teenager to fight the depression and self-loathing that resulted from his mother sexually abusing him.

Psychologist Steven Samuel said Tollefson told him his mother gave him daily enemas until age 16, made him sleep in her bed every night until she died and forbade him from having friends.

"His mother said to him every day, 'There's bad in you; I have to drain it out,' " Goldman told the court.

Samuel added: "People have said in the past that Mr. Tollefson has a God complex. I think just the opposite is true. I think that he has a hate complex and is terrifically self-destructive."

Tollefson, in a navy suit and striped tie, told Boylan he was "terrible with money" and never wished to get involved in charitable fundraising again. He testified that he aimed to write about his experiences, perhaps in a book, so others could learn from his mistakes. Proceeds would go toward restitution, he added.

"Every day for me is a day of humiliating reflection for what I did to people who didn't deserve any of what I did," he said. "What I did was incredibly selfish, incredibly unfair, incredibly dishonest. I know I need to be punished. I take ownership for what I did."

Tollefson has 10 days to ask the judge to reconsider her sentence and 30 days to appeal. But Goldman said he thought Tollefson would do neither.