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Ex-Restaurateur Held on Bad-Check Charges

Times Staff Writer

A former Torrance restaurateur who prosecutors say cashed two bogus checks for almost $250,000 before fleeing to Australia 7 years ago was ordered held without bail Thursday.

Federal Magistrate George King agreed with the prosecutor who said that James McGrail, 52, who was extradited to the United States last week, is “a severe risk for flight.”

McGrail, who owned the now-defunct Bounty restaurant, is charged with two counts of transporting forged checks and three counts of bank larceny totaling $247,500. Officials said the former Palos Verdes resident changed a check for $125 to read $125,000 and cashed another that was drawn from a defunct bank in England.

McGrail has pleaded not guilty.

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His lawyer, Alan Launspach, argued at the U.S. District Court bail hearing that McGrail had the opportunity to flee while free on bond in Australia--where he fought extradition for 3 months --but did not.

“It wasn’t as if he moved to an exotic, strange land trying to avoid the authorities,” said Launspach, noting that McGrail lived under his real name in Australia.

McGrail, who was accompanied to Los Angeles by U.S. marshals on March 17, smiled several times during the hearing at his daughter, who lives in the South Bay.

McGrail lived on the Palos Verdes Peninsula for 14 years before moving in 1982 with his wife and son to Australia, where he opened a health spa on the Gold Coast.

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On July 19, of that year, McGrail allegedly deposited a $172,000 check drawn from a closed bank in Essex, England, in the Torrance branch of Security Pacific National Bank. Two days later, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Stephen Mansfield, McGrail deposited a check for $125,000 and withdrew $47,500, the maximum the bank would let him have.

He then flew to Australia, returned to the United States in August and withdrew more than $200,000 from two branches, the prosecutor said.

“The next day he fled to Australia,” Mansfield told the court.

McGrail was indicted in Los Angeles in 1983, but authorities did not begin extradition proceedings until 1986, and a court order to secure his arrest in Australia was not obtained until last October.

Trial is set for May 9. If convicted, McGrail faces up to 50 years in prison and fines totaling $35,000, along with restitution to the bank.

McGrail’s wife is selling the health spa in Australia and plans to return to this country in a week or two, Launspach said.


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