WOODBURY — According to information provided by the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office, Ellis Hester, 58, of Gibbstown was ordered Friday to put his house on the market and sell his 1998 Mercedes-Benz to help pay restitution to 20 customers of his now-defunct Williamstown travel agency who paid for a 2011 Mediterranean cruise they never took because he kept their money.
“I should have sent you to state prison,” Superior Court Judge M. Christine Allen-Jackson told Hester at an ability-to-pay hearing. “If you have not put forth every effort to get that house sold, you go to jail.”
Hester pleaded guilty to theft Aug. 15, 2011, was placed on probation for five years and ordered to repay $400 a month to the victims. He stopped paying in May 2014 and still owes more than $41,000.
He told Judge Allen-Jackson the customers’ money is “gone, spent with bills, running the business.” His Deva Travel agency is closed, he said.
“My reputation is demolished,” Hester said. He presently receives disability income, he said.
Hester was given 30 days to list his house, which he said is worth $260,000, for sale. He must also sell his car, Allen-Jackson said. “You’re not going to work, there’s no need to have a car. Public transportation will work,” the judge said.
“I will do all I can to follow your orders,” Hester said.
Victims were receiving about $24 a month restitution on their original travel deposits of $3,369.