SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A retired Los Angeles County firefighter pleaded guilty Monday to a federal charge of running an illegal sports gambling business that authorities said appeared to operate in part from a firehouse while he was on duty.
Retired fire Capt. Tod Hipsher, 51, entered the plea in federal court in Santa Ana. He is set to be sentenced on June 2 and could face a maximum of five years in prison.
Hipsher netted hundreds of thousands of dollars over 12 years through an online, Costa Rica-based sportsbook that took wagers on the Super Bowl, college basketball games and other events, homeland security officials said.
Authorities said they searched Hipsher's Irvine home in March and seized $200,000 in cash. He retired at the end of 2013.
"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."
The investigation into Hipsher and his associates began in 2009 following a tip from the Orange County District Attorney's office.
Another Orange County man has pleaded guilty to running an illegal gambling business on another site and will be sentenced later this year, Robbins said.
Authorities say Hipsher's clients bet online or used a 1-800 number.
In 2011, undercover agents met at least twice with Hipsher at a fire station in Bell to conduct gambling business, said Mark Speidel, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement's homeland security investigations.
Hipsher told authorities he made between $200,000 and $300,000 during the past few years, Speidel said, adding that some bettors interviewed by investigators said they had been financially ruined by the sportsbook.
Hipsher and federal authorities reached a plea agreement in October but he did not plead guilty in court until Monday.
Hipsher's lawyer, Victor Sherman, told the court the delay allowed his client to retire at the end of last year.
A message was left with Los Angeles County Fire Department seeking comment.