Tod Hipsher, Retired Fire Captain, Fires Back Over Illegal Gambling Business Plea: Update

Categories: Court, Crime-iny

See the update at the end of this post on a letter from Tod Hipsher concerning our coverage of his guilty plea.

tod-hipsher_twitter.jpeg
Twitter/TodHipsher
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.

With respect,
Retired Fire Captain
Tod Hipsher

Officials at ICE respectfully declined to respond publicly to Hipsher's letter.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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17 comments
mendozaline42
mendozaline42

Hey Coker. While your country is being inundated with illegals and criminals from Mexico your ICE department is chasing bookies around. You waste you time writing about how a stand up individual(longtime Firefighter) got trapped by your Department of Homeland Security (who are they securing you from ?????) when a REAL JOURNALIST would have been covering something meaningful. Perhaps how YOUR WAR ON TERROR is a fraud because of the fact that illegals are basically welcomed into your country through the porous borders and now the Mexican Government is warning that radioactive material is missing from their facilities. Oh but , I see , a Fire Captain booking a little action is more of a threat to your national security than possible terrorist passing through the border . What a joke ....... Journalism is dead and the fact that it's dead is more of a threat to your country than a bookmaking fire fighter or perhaps even an wetback carrying radioactive material into your country because if journalist in  AMERICA had done their job and reported on something meaningful maybe you  , just maybe , you and your people would wake up and see what it really means to be the leaders of the free world, police of the world. Just like any city that has a corrupt police department , that city is in ruins not too long , as goes the world when the police of the world are corrupt . It was your job as a journalist , with you colleagues , to report on things that prevent corruption . If you studied history you would know that in your constitution the 1st amendment not only protects you to do that it OBLIGATES YOU TO.

   

justmeandyou
justmeandyou

No respect for this "man". He runs around with his buddies while they cheat on their wives and then claims to be a family man.....he is a criminal who is only upset he got caught!

Can you say BULL STEROIDS!

Hitman_Corleone
Hitman_Corleone

Fireman Tod is right! He didn't do anything different then what Vegas or places like Pechanga do. The people who should goto jail are the idiots who let themselves get taken. 900k? dude your a loser! stop gambling! I can see anyone of us getting involved in that high turnaround if approached with the proposition.

Mitchell_Young
Mitchell_Young topcommenter

Gotta wonder if Coker is felling a little stirling in the loins at that photo. That’s some serious testosterone going on (whether natural or artificial). 

gregbpc
gregbpc topcommenter

If the story is as Mr. Hipsher states, this does not sound like THAT big of deal. LE should be spending more time cracking down on illegals, welfare fraud, and OT abuse.

gregbpc
gregbpc topcommenter

His $200k salary and pension weren't enough?  Retired at 51 with a fat pension?  Niiice!

Average_Joe
Average_Joe

I am quite tired of fire fighters wanting to be applauded for doing their job. Are we to give him a medal for fighting fires, assisting those that pay his salary with emergencies and performing CPR - on Easter Sunday (gasp! - assuming he was no duty, if not, any decent person with the skills provided by a public employee position would have done the same). 

All of the above is in the job description and the reason he made a good salary, for 30+ years. The fire fighting part is even in the job title!

If he wants his daughter to be proud of her dad he should maybe not be breaking federal laws? I have managed for decades.

And if that photo is something he actually posted somewhere on the internets I really would not know what to say to his child.

Mitchell_Young
Mitchell_Young topcommenter

Shouldn’t that be ‘undocumented’ gambling business?

paullucas714
paullucas714 topcommenter

Wow at the fire station on duty?

NoBullshit
NoBullshit

He helped people gamble.  So what?  Bullshit crime...

FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

Perhaps he should have worked for some shady investment firm, instead. He probably wouldn't see any jail time then. :-(

ltpar
ltpar topcommenter

"Crime doesn't pay," when you get caught that is......  Imagine how much the guy could have been making if he had been working full time at it?  

budguy21
budguy21

@Average_Joe Most firefighters do NOT want to be applauded for doing their job. Let's not paint them all with one brush.

JBinOC
JBinOC topcommenter

@Average_Joe 

With all due respect to Mr. Hipsher, I gotta say, Average_Joe hit the nail on the head with that last sentence.  

My feeling is, 9 out of 10 daughters who are 15 y.o. do not want to have a dad whose Twitter profile pic features him shirtless inside a luxury vehicle with leopard-print upholstery, with a shit eating look on his face.  


Mr. Hipsher, I hope your daughter is the 1 out of 10 who does...you might want to check in with her and ask. 


And yeah, I was in Vegas two weekends ago, and won my AFC Championship first-half straight bet (Denver -3).  


FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

@NoBullshit 

I did think about that. If someone wants to gamble so what? "A fool and his money are soon parted." An investment firm helps their clients "gamble" their hard-earned money in the stock market. There is risk in that game, too. But it seems the law is much more inclined to throw the book at a bookie than a crooked broker...seems unfair.

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