Don Tollefson felt “tremendous” as he sat down to speak with NBC10’s Jim Rosenfield in an exclusive interview in November. It was a far cry from how he felt more than a year ago, when the former Philadelphia sportscaster’s house of cards came tumbling down.
In March of 2015, Tollefson was found guilty of stealing more than $340,000 from sports fans through fundraisers for his charity “Winning Ways.” Prosecutors said he sold sports-themed excursions and experiences to more than 200 people and never delivered. He was sentenced to two to four years in prison on felony money laundering, fraud and theft charges.
Now out on probation after spending 14 months behind bars, Tollefson is explaining his actions as well as the changes he's making in his life.
“I was a one-person non-profit and I’m a terrible businessperson,” said Tollefson. “I’m not saying my addiction caused this. I’m responsible for everything I did as a human being but I made some terrible financial decisions.”
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Tollefson claims he was bad with money and also an alcoholic since the age of 16.
“I don’t think there was a day that I didn’t drink,” he said. “That’s how bad my disease was.”
In addition to his alcoholism, Tollefson also said he was dealing with a pain killer addiction that stemmed from a shoulder injury he suffered during a car accident in 2008.
“But when I got in the hole, with 20/20 hindsight, I should’ve shut the charity down,” Tollefson said.
Since being released from prison, Tollefson says he’s been sober and deeply religious. He attends James United Methodist Church in Germantown where he’s gotten support from the congregation. He also said he’s focused on counseling families who are struggling with getting help for loved ones dealing with addiction.
Yet despite the changes Tollefson says he’s made, he also knows it’s of little consolation to his victims. Tollefson insists that he’ll give them back their money. He says he wants to open drug and alcohol abuse treatment centers which he claims would help speed up paying off the $165,000 in restitution he was ordered to pay them back as part of his sentencing.
He also knows many won’t forgive him for arguably his most egregious crime, ripping off a charity for the family of slain Plymouth Township police officer Bradley Fox.
“Of all the things I did, that ashamed me the most,” Tollefson said. “Because my intention there was to honor him and I completely screwed that up.”
Tollefson still hasn’t told his 7-year-old daughter about his jail time.
“She thinks I was in the hospital,” he said.
Eventually however, he plans on telling her where he really was.
“I’ll tell her that her daddy did some terrible, terrible, terrible things,” he said. “But since he changed his life, he believes that he’s not a terrible, terrible person. And if you can forgive me, I think you will see in what I will do the rest of my life, that I am a good, loving father. And I’m a good human being.”