See the update at the end of this post on a letter from Tod Hipsher concerning our coverage of his guilty plea.
ORIGINAL POST, JAN. 28, 7:10 P.M.: An Irvine resident and recently retired Los Angeles County Fire Department captain pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to having run an illegal gambling business for more than a decade.
Tod Hipsher, 51, copped to one count of conducting an illegal gambling business as part of a plea deal that could have him sentenced to up than five years in prison and fined up to $250,000.
Get this: when
the feds busted undercover investigators twice met Hipsher*, he was in uniform at his fire station in Bell, the tiny L.A. County city that became the poster municipality for public corruption thanks to the exploits of city administrator-turned-felon Robert Rizzo, ex-of Huntington Beach. You'll recall Rizzo's assistant, Bell's city council and the police chief were also swept up in the case.
(* According to a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): "On two occasions, Hipsher met with undercover investigators at his assigned fire station in Bell while wearing his uniform.")
A second Orange County man, Pat Fondarella, 55, of Laguna Niguel, previously pleaded guilty to a count of conducting an illegal gambling business for his role in the scheme that my colleague R. Scott Moxley previously wrote about:
Moxley Confidential: Discrimination Lawsuit Highlights Orange County's Ongoing Struggle With Racism; Plus, there's murder on the menu, housing contractors violating bookmaking laws and lawmakers booking speeches
Fondarella is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 4, and Hipsher is set to be sentenced June 2, according to the ICE statement. The case against the pair stems from a long undercover probe by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Investigative Bureau of the Orange County District Attorney's Office, ICE adds.
Hipsher, a 30-year LA County Fire veteran who formally retired at the end of 2013, ran a bookmaking operation in Orange and Los Angeles counties for at least 12 years, according to the plea agreement, which further indicates the fire captain sought and maintained customers for a Costa Rica-based bookmaking organization known as Tradewinds.
Hipsher admitted to having set up Tradewinds accounts for the customers and having accepted thousands of bets totaling millions of dollars over the 12-year span. Ledgers seized by the feds showed that in one four-month period, from December 2012 to March 2013, the former fire captain made approximately $168,000 as a result of the scheme.
"During the course of this probe, HSI special agents encountered a number of bettors who'd been left virtually destitute by gambling debts they suffered at the hands of this organization, including one individual who lost nearly $900,000," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles, in the statement. "These offshore bookmaking operations prey on the financially vulnerable and generate billions of dollars a year in proceeds."
Undercover investigators from HSI and the OCDA posed as debt collectors for Hipsher's gambling business and met him twice at his assigned fire station in Bell while he was wearing his fire captain uniform, according to ICE.
When HSI special agents executed search warrants at Hipsher's Irvine residence and on several of his vehicles in March 2013, they shut down his business and seized more than $200,000 in cash, according to the agency.
UPDATE, JAN. 30, 3:16 P.M.: The Weekly received the following email from Tod Hipsher:
Matt, I respect the job you do as a reporter and your stories. As a long time resident of the OC I would like to "throw my two cents" in.
As your head line states yes I did plead guilty to a bookmaking charge. Is it the worst crime in the world? Let your readers decide. Do you gamble? Does just about everybody gamble? Pools, lottery, stocks, sports, poker up the street and the list goes on. Is it illegal YES! Is it my fault Yes but in reality let me just clarify a few things.
The under cover agents befriended me as part of a motorcycle gang (vagos) they looked and played the part! They called me one day and said they were on a ride and wanted to stop by the fire station! Ok sure. Now that equates to operating it out of the station?
Really? Ok you got me Homeland Security! Your/our tax dollars at work.
I put people in FINANCIAL RUIN and made them DESTITUTE? Really, ok let's ask Steve Wynn about that statement. (Encore and Wynn hotels)
Anyway, my point here is this!
I AM A 30 PLUS YEAR DEDICATED FIRE CAPTAIN WHO HAS SAVED MANY LIVES AND WHO HAS BATTLED MANY FIRES AND EMERGENCIES! NO WHERE IN ANY ARTICLE OR PRESS RELEASE HAS ANYBODY MENTIONED THAT! BELL IS A " SCANDAL PLAGUED AREA" ITS ALSO A VERY VERY BUSY AREA WITH SHOOTINGS, STABBINGS ETC. I WAS THERE RISKING MY LIFE DAILY FOR THOSE CITIZENS.
OH AND FOR THE RECORD, YOU OR NOBODY ELSE REPORTED ON ME AT ANGEL STADIUM ON OPENING DAY IN THE DIAMOND CLUB DOING CPR ON THE FLOOR SAVING A MANS LIFE WHO WENT INTO FULL ARREST. YEP, THAT WAS ME!! WAS ABLE TO GIVE A MAN AND HIS FAMILY A SECOND CHANCE AT LIFE, FOR THAT EASTER SUNDAY!
Yes, I am guilty and I apologize to the people I affected. But gambling is a black and white business. You win you get paid, you lose you call the FEDS!!!
I have a 15 year old beautiful daughter who is most important so please maybe print something good about her dad.
Retired Fire Captain
Officials at ICE respectfully declined to respond publicly to Hipsher's letter.