Man Pleads Guilty to Aggregate Theft Charges in Oprah Winfrey Bus Scam

A travel company operator pleaded guilty to bilking about 60 people, mostly senior citizens, by selling them bogus tickets and charter bus trips to Chicago to see the " Oprah Winfrey Show."

Terrance M. Hawkins, 45, pleaded guilty Friday to 17 counts of aggregate theft over $500.

He agreed to pay full restitution within two years, prosecutors said. Hawkins has paid back some victims and now owes about $22,000.

Hawkins faces seven years in prison, but under a plea deal, most of his sentence will be suspended, prosecutors said. He also faces supervised probation for three years at a sentencing hearing Sept. 29.

Operating his business under the names Royal Travel and Royal Stages Travel Group, prosecutors said Hawkins accepted payments between December 2004 and April 2005 for trips that were never delivered.

The "Oprah Winfrey Show" is free, with tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis.

"Hopefully, these victims will someday get their chance to see Oprah in person without having to worry about scam artists like Mr. Hawkins," State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said in a statement Monday.