As a U.S. postal inspector for the past 20 years, H.L. (Bookie) Almond has seen thousands of people lose millions of dollars through mail fraud.
But his last major case before his retirement, planned for April, is expected to be concluded Wednesday, when Newport Beach financier John G. Rinaldo appears in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles for sentencing. Rinaldo's bankrupt pension fund mangement and real estate investment programs could cost about 7,000 investors as much as $10 million, according to the bankruptcy trustee in the case.
Acting on a complaint made by an investor in November, 1983, Almond and his staff began to unravel the case, which took them nine months. Almond was in the courtroom Feb. 27 when Rinaldo entered a plea of guilty to one count of felony mail fraud before U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter. "It gave me a great deal of satisfaction," he said. The victims "are elderly people. No one else speaks for the victims except the government."
Rinaldo, originally accused of 15 counts of felony mail fraud, pleaded guilty to one count in a plea bargain. The other 14 counts will be dismissed at his sentencing. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Almond, 52, in looking back over his career, said that the worst case he can remember was in 1976 and involved an elderly couple from Woodland Hills who lost $80,000--their life savings--to a phony investment scheme. The man who masterminded the scheme, which attracted more than 2,000 investors, eventually pleaded guilty, Almond said.
"Fraud is limited only by the human mind," Almond said. "People are ingenious in the schemes they devise. What frightens me is the collusion that I see by well-educated people."
Almond, known to his family and friends as "Bookie," a childhood nickname his grandfather gave him, said he is looking forward to being able to travel and to "putter around the garden" after he leaves his Santa Ana office. He and his wife of 24 years, Zoe, also are happy they will have time to spend with their first grandchild, Kevin Michael Knipp, born Feb. 28.
After traveling, Almond plans to start another career--as a private detective.
"Fortunately, I've had a great deal of exposure in my field," he said of his qualifications. "I don't see it as making money. I feel I can make some contributions to people who are in need of my investigative skills."
Almond began his postal career in 1951 at the age of 19 as a mail carrier in Kermit, Tex. Eight years later, he had risen to postmaster. By 1965, he had begun thinking about moving up in the Postal Service or switching to law enforcement.
That year, he began training in Washington, D.C., to become a postal inspector. His first cases involved armed robbery, burglary and the theft of Treasury and welfare checks. He came to Orange County in 1969.
Despite the years he has spent investigating mail fraud, Almond said he believes that "for the most part, people are honest. They make honest mistakes (and) promises they can't fulfill.
"One of the biggest mistakes I see is that early in a career, people make money and develop egos which create problems." People who are likely to commit fraud, he said, "have visionary ideas that they can continue regardless of the economy or of the up and down swings."
Gary Jones, a Santa Ana postal inspector who has known Almond since 1971 said he is "very professional and has a tremendous amount of expertise in what he does. He's one of those guys you like right off."
'He Commands Respect'
"Bookie treats people at all levels with the upmost respect and fairness," said Andy Thomas, who worked under Almond's supervision for three years. "I've noticed defense attorneys treat him with as much respect as a judge. In return, he commands respect himself. I attribute a lot that I learned from Bookie. It's easy to learn the mechanics of the job; it's not easy to learn the intangibles of the job."
Zoe Almond said she has mixed emotions about her husband's retirement. "I'm more concerned about him. He's still quite young, and he has to start in a new field. I have all the confidence he can do it."