updated 8/14/2006 9:40:33 PM ET 2006-08-15T01:40:33

The operator of a travel business has pleaded guilty to theft after he bilked dozens of people who thought they had purchased tickets and charter bus trips to Chicago to see the "Oprah Winfrey Show."

Terrance M. Hawkins, 45, of Temple Hills, had faced seven years in prison, but almost all of that was suspended after he agreed to pay full restitution of tens of thousands of dollars to about 60 victims, mostly senior citizens in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, within two years, according to the Prince George's County state's attorney's office. He will be on supervised probation for three years.

Hawkins has paid back some victims and now owes about $22,000.

He operated his businesses under the names Royal Travel and Royal Stages Travel Group. Prosecutors believe that between December 2004 and April 2005, he accepted payments from clients for trips that were never delivered.

Hawkins pleaded guilty to 17 counts of aggregate theft over $500 late Friday before county Circuit Court Judge Thomas P. Smith. He is to be sentenced Sept. 29.

The "Oprah Winfrey Show" is actually free, 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.

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