Jail time ordered for private investigator who tracked Costa Mesa council members

A former Riverside police detective hired to dig up dirt on Costa Mesa City Council members was sentenced Friday to nearly a year in the Orange County Jail for illegally using an electronic tracking device and making a false drunk-driving report.

Christopher Joseph Lanzillo, 47, had pleaded guilty in September to two felony counts of conspiracy to commit a crime of unlawful use of an electronic tracking device, one felony count of false imprisonment by deceit, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit a crime of falsely reporting crime to an agency, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office.

In addition to the jail sentence, Orange County Superior Court Judge W. Michael Hayes gave Lanzillo three years' probation.

Lanzillo has been free on bail and is scheduled to turn himself in later this month to begin his sentence.

Prosecutors contend that in the months leading up to the 2012 council election, Lanzillo — working as a private investigator for the now-defunct law firm that represented Costa Mesa’s police union — illegally tracked then-Councilman Steve Mensinger and submitted a false drunk-driving report about then-Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who still sits on the council.

At the time, Mensinger, Righeimer and then-council colleague Gary Monahan were in the midst of an employment contract dispute with the Costa Mesa Police Assn. over pensions and other benefits, which the three have long contended are financially burdensome and unsustainable.

The police association, which has denied having any prior knowledge of Lanzillo's actions, had hired the law firm known for its aggressive tactics and "playbook" reference guide to intimidating politicians.

Prosecutors said Lanzillo placed a GPS device on Mensinger's vehicle to track his whereabouts.

In August 2012, Lanzillo followed Righeimer home as he left a bar and restaurant on Newport Boulevard. During the drive, prosecutors contend, Lanzillo called 911, falsely reporting that Righeimer was driving erratically.

A police officer pulled Righeimer over and gave him a field sobriety test, which he passed. Righeimer later said he was drinking Diet Coke that evening.

After the councilmen publicly aired what happened to them, the police union fired the law firm — Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir.

Private investigator Scott Alan Impola, 49, is facing the same charges as Lanzillo, prosecutors said. He has pleaded not guilty.

bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @BradleyZint

Zint writes for Times Community News


UPDATES:

4:50 p.m.: This article has been updated to clarify the charges Lanzillo pleaded guilty to.

This article was originally published at 2:30 p.m.

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