SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Posing as debt collectors, undercover federal agents headed to a Los Angeles County firehouse in 2011 to meet with a man suspected of illegally moving millions of dollars through an offshore sports gambling enterprise.
The man was a fire captain stationed in the scandal-plagued city of Bell, and authorities said he appeared to be at least partly operating his piece of the Costa Rica-based online sportsbook on duty.
On Monday, now-retired Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Tod Hipsher pleaded guilty in Santa Ana to a federal charge of running an illegal gambling business. Hipsher, 51, who remains free, is set to be sentenced on June 2 and could face a maximum of five years in prison.
"We have great respect for firefighters and first responders," said Josh Robbins, an assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case. "It's disappointing when someone in an official position, especially someone in a position of leadership and responsibility, chooses to be involved in illegal activity of any kind."
Los Angeles County fire officials had no immediate comment on the case. Hipsher declined to comment after the hearing.
The ongoing federal investigation into Hipsher and at least a half dozen associates began in 2009 following a tip from the Orange County District Attorney's office. Another Orange County man, Pat Fondarella, has pleaded guilty to running an illegal gambling business on another website and is scheduled to be sentenced later this year.
Authorities say Hipsher netted hundreds of thousands of dollars over 12 years by recruiting bettors and collecting debts for the online Tradewinds sportsbook — which took wagers on the Super Bowl, college basketball games and other events.
He set up clients with accounts so they could bet online or through a 1-800 number.