By Tony Hanson

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A 75-year-old Elkins Park man has been sentenced to five years in prison for running a travel business that booked trips to Christian pilgrimage sites, and then ripped off the customers between 2004 and 2007.

Prosecutor Chris Diviny says defendant John Baird, operating Christian Pilgrim Tours, offered trips to Christian pilgrimage sites, even promised an audience with the Pope on one trip, but trips were cancelled and victims lost their money — over $400,000 in all.

“This was the trip of a lifetime and when it was taken away from them, many of them expressed that they would not have an opportunity to do this again,” Diviny said.

And they were brokenhearted.

Baird blamed previous civil attorneys and other factors. Defense attorney Lawrence Bozzelli says this was a legitimate business.

“Many trips went, some didn’t, but because his wife got sick, he didn’t really spend the time he should have and unfortunately it’s sad because a lot of people didn’t go on the trips that they had paid for.”

The judge rejected Baird’s excuses.

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