News Column

Judge denies Tollefson a public defender

May 16, 2014

By Ben Finley, The Philadelphia Inquirer



May 16--Don Tollefson's income has taken a big hit since he left Fox 29 in 2008, when he was making nearly $5,000 a week.

The former sportscaster is now pulling in about $2,654 a month in disability payments. He's got $1,200 in his checking account, and a $100,000 balance of credit with his bank that he's months behind on paying. His house in Wyndmoor, Montgomery County, is $75,000 under water.

But Tollefson still isn't poor enough for a public defender. A Bucks County judge on Friday ruled that Tollefson must hire private counsel to defend against charges he sold people more than $100,000 in bogus travel packages to sporting events.

Tollefson, 61, applied for the services of a public defender late last month, submitting several financial documents. They included the $100,000 line of credit balance with his bank as well as his wife's income, which is about $5,800 a month or $70,000 a year. Tollefson wrote that his gig at Fox was his last full-time job. He doesn't have any stocks, bonds or trusts to his name, according to paperwork he filed with the court.

Tollefson, who did not return a phone call or e-mail seeking comment, spent decades as a sportscaster in Philadelphia, mostly at Fox and ABC6. The Bucks County District Attorney's Office arrested him in February on felony fraud charges alleging a widespread travel-package scheme that impacted more than 100 people across the Delaware Valley.

About half the packages were for Eagles road games. But other events included Super Bowls, Phillies spring training trips, and the Kentucky Derby, police said. The packages were sold with the understanding that some of the money would go to a charity, such as one of Tollefson's organizations for children or an outside foundation.

When he was arrested this winter, Tollefson hired two high-powered attorneys from separate firms, Michael McGovern and Ray McHugh. But by March those lawyers were gone. They were replaced by a public defender who successfully filed a petition to allow Tollefson to leave Bucks County prison for a drug treatment facility.

Tollefson told a judge in February that he had been sober for 131 days, although he did not elaborate further.

Tollefson will need the services of a private lawyer in a matter of weeks. A preliminary hearing to review his case is scheduled for May 29 in a Warminster district court.

bfinley@phillynews.com 610-313-8118

@Ben_Finley

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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)