A co-founder of Rescue Ink, which gained national fame for its tough-guy animal advocates, has been charged with stealing $15,000 in checks for the Long Beach animal shelter run by the group, police said Thursday.
John Orlandini, 49, cashed 141 checks made out to Rescue Ink between last June and February this year and kept the money, Long Beach police said. He was the shelter's director until he quit the nonprofit last December, telling members he was going out on his own.
"He stole from the animals, from Play, Daisy, Stone, the chickens we took in, the guinea pigs, the rabbits," said Joe Panz, a Rescue Ink co-founder who has known Orlandini for more than 10 years. "It's very aggravating because we fight for every single day for every single penny we get. . . . We don't like to say it, but we're in panic mode."
Orlandini, of Long Beach, surrendered Wednesday and was arraigned in Long Beach City Court on grand larceny charges, police said. His bail was set at $500 cash or $1,000 bond, police said.
He could not be reached for comment.
Long Beach detectives began investigating after a donor asked for a receipt for tax purposes and shelter officials found no record of the donation's deposit.
Rescue Ink officials said it was $1,000 donated from a Florida foundation. They said other checks were meant to help rebuild the shelter after superstorm Sandy destroyed its water and sewage pipes, cat havens and more.
One was sent in the name of a man who asked that donations in lieu of flowers be made to Rescue Ink, they said, and others from children's piggy banks.
The nonprofit began running the shelter in 2011 with a $15,000 annual contract from Long Beach. The facility had been closed due to management problems under city workers.
As its director, Orlandini was also the city's humane commissioner until February. That was when he was "released from service for substandard performance," Long Beach Police Commissioner Michael Tangney said in a statement.
Detectives ask Rescue Ink donors who did not get a letter of acknowledgment to call 516-705-7320.
The Long Island-based Rescue Ink gained fans nationwide in 2009 with a reality show on the National Geographic channel that filmed eight tattooed, motorcycle-riding men saving strays and abused animals.
Now, Panz is gauging the fallout after the arrest of Orlandini, who also helped run the group's Facebook page, post office box and other donation efforts.
Panz said Rescue Ink members have just formed The Construction Guys business to gut Sandy-damaged homes, a way to make money for the shelter.Panz said he's been shot and beaten up in the past, but what he believes Orlandini allegedly did "hurt the most."