Theft charge dismissed against former director of Long Beach shelter

John Orlandini, 49, of Long Beach surrendered Wednesday John Orlandini, 49, of Long Beach surrendered Wednesday and was arraigned in Long Beach City Court on grand larceny charges after police said he stole $15,000 in checks made out to a local animal shelter he headed. (May 15, 2013) Photo Credit: Long Beach Police Department

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A charge alleging theft of about $15,000 in donations to Rescue Ink, an animal rescue group that ran Long Beach's shelter, was dismissed this month against one of its original members.

John Orlandini, who was the shelter director, said he told a grand jury that he cashed 141 checks from donors and showed many receipts on expenses.

"It all went to the shelter," said Orlandini, 49, of Levittown. "The money went from my hands to buy supplies, to pay for veterinary bills, to pay for cables, to pay the phones, the plumbers . . . "

The grand jury dismissed the case against him on April 1 and sealed the records, according to county documents.

Orlandini had left the shelter in December 2012 to pursue other animal rescue work.

Then in May, Long Beach police arrested him on a grand larceny charge, saying a donor had asked for a receipt and Rescue Ink members could not find a record of the check being deposited.

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Police said detectives discovered many more checks had not been deposited. Rescue Ink officials said the checks came from children who emptied their piggy banks, people who wanted to help after superstorm Sandy flooded the shelter and even funds given on behalf of a man who died who had requested donations be made to the animal group in lieu of flowers.Rescue Ink, which gained national fame for its tough-guy advocacy for animals, got a $15,000 annual contract from Long Beach City to run its animal shelter in 2011 and relied on donations.

Orlandini's attorney, Mitchell Barnett of Garden City, believes the grand jurors based their dismissal not just on the receipts. His client was able to prove he spent long days at the shelter, and he was able to name veterinarians and others who were paid for work at the shelter, the attorney said.

"The side of John about taking care of the animals came out," Barnett said.

Orlandini said some grand jurors cried when he told them that only he and one other person stayed at the shelter during superstorm Sandy, saving all but two animals when the facility was flooded. "I almost died," he said.

Long Beach in October ended its contract with Rescue Ink, which gained national fame in 2009 with a National Geographic reality show that followed eight tattooed, motorcycle-riding men saving strays and abused animals.

Orlandini said he's moved on to book, radio and television deals, all animal-related.

While his case was pending, he said, he could do animal work only "behind the scenes" rather than "banging on doors" and joining advocates against puppy mills.

"It's kind of sad that it stopped me from doing what I loved to do," Orlandini said. "I'm back, full speed ahead."

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