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The Orange County District Attorney’s office Thursday charged two private investigators with multiple felonies related to their alleged efforts to trap two Costa Mesa City Council members in embarrassing or illegal acts, according to a DA news release.
The investigators, Christopher J. Lanzillo and Scott A. Impola, are each charged with four felonies, including conspiracy to commit a crime of unlawful use of electronic tracking device, false imprisonment by deceit, and conspiracy to commit a crime of falsely reporting crime, the release states.
If convicted, Lanzillo and Impola face a maximum sentence of four years and four months in jail, as well as revocation of their private investigators’ licenses, according to the DA release. Each is being held on $25,000 bail.
In the months leading up to the 2012 election, Lanzillo and Impola allegedly attempted to ensnare councilmen Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger while they were working for the now dissolved law-firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill and Ethir, which was retained by the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association.
The DA specifically accuses Lanzillo of following Righeimer as the councilman drove home after an evening at Councilman Gary Monahan’s bar and restaurant, Skosh Monahan’s. Lanzillo called 911 and falsely reported that Righeimer was swerving on the road and stumbled out of his car upon arriving home, according to the DA release.
A Costa Mesa police officer arrived on scene and administered a sobriety test, which Righeimer passed. The councilman only had two non-alcoholic beverages while at the restaurant, the news release states.
And in the summer of 2012, Lanzillo and Impola conspired to place a GPS tracking devince on Mensinger’s vehicle “without his knowledge or permission,” the release says.
Righeimer and Mensinger have also filed a lawsuit against the defunct law-firm, the union and Lanzillo.
Lanzillo and Impola are also accused of placing a GPS device on a vehicle belonging to an attorney working for a competing law firm. But the victims of those alleged crimes aren’t identified in the news release.
Righeimer and Mensinger are harsh critics of spiraling public employee pension costs, and both accuse the police union of knowingly using extortion tactics to coerce the council into approving lucrative compensation packages for police officers.
The law firm had worked for police unions throughout California, and Righeimer and Mensinger say the indictments will help shed light on the extreme lengths the unions will go to obtain sweetheart deals.
“I’m hopeful this is the beginning of the end of the extortion of elected officials by police unions throughout California,” Mensinger said.
Lanzillo, Impola and Costa Mesa Police Officers Association President Rob Dimel couldn’t be immediately reached for comment, and representatives of the law firm also couldn’t be reached for comment. A phone number listed for the firm has been disconnected.
The two councilmen also say they expect more indictments to follow and allege that the police union knew about the investigators’ activities. Mensinger alleges that officers from Costa Mesa and other cities were also moonlighting as investigators for the firm.
Mensinger said he has “reason to believe” that the FBI has also been involved in the investigation. And Righeimer speculates that further prosecution could depend on whether Lanzillo and Impola roll on others involved in the alleged scheme.
“It’s gonna get bigger,” Righeimer said. “Right now we’re going to see how thin the blue line is.”