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Spring break scammer ordered to repay classmates he bilked

It’s a ritual for college students everywhere: Go somewhere warm for spring break, and let the party begin.

Getting scammed out of $200,000 is generally not part of the plan -- but that’s exactly what happened to about 200 students at Hampton University in Hampton, Va., prosecutors said.

One of their former classmates, Christopher Ryan Thomas, 24, of Sugarland, Texas, was sentenced last week to 33 months in prison for participting in a scheme to steal spring break funds.

Thomas, who pleaded guilty in October in U.S. District Court in Newport News, was ordered to pay $230,134.76 in restitution.

Prosecutors said Thomas was affiliated with the university’s Student Government Association when the senior class began planning a spring break jaunt to a resort and spa in Jamaica. Thomas was selected as a travel agent for the trip, which averaged $1,000 per student and was supposed to be all-inclusive -- airline tickets, lodging, food and taxes.

From November 2006 through April 2007, prosecutors said, Thomas collected about $200,000 from his 200 fellow students. But he spent much of it on his own travel, his rent, transfers to an Etrade account, utilities bills and car payments, prosecutors said.

He also blew $67,000 on plans to hold an elaborate concert at the university featuring a rap musician.

When the students arrived at the Sunset Beach Resort and Spa in Jamaica in May 2007, they were told Thomas had not paid their lodging expenses and that the spa was owed $90,000.

Many students were forced to call friends and relatives back home to request additional funds. Thomas promised to reimburse them, but never did, prosecutors said.

-- Jerry Markon

By Washington Post Editors  |  February 11, 2010; 1:09 PM ET
Categories:  From the Courthouse , Jerry Markon , Virginia  
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