Judge orders private investigator to stay away from councilmen

A judge has ordered a private investigator to stay away from two Costa Mesa councilmen

An Orange County Superior Court judge has ordered a private investigator to stay away from two Costa Mesa councilmen whom he allegedly followed and kept under surveillance in the run-up to local elections in 2012.

Scott Alan Impola appeared in court this week to face felony conspiracy and false-imprisonment charges filed by prosecutors earlier this month. Impola is accused of taking part in a plan to dig up dirt on political opponents of the local police union.

One of charges stems from the filing of a false DUI report that caused Councilman Jim Righeimer to be detained briefly by an officer who responded to the official’s home to perform a sobriety test, according to prosecutors.

Impola, 46, did not enter a plea, instead delaying his arraignment until January. But in a filing this week, his lawyer called the charges against him “ambitious.”

Impola was one of two private investigators working for the law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir in 2012, when it was retained by the Costa Mesa Police Assn. to research and keep under surveillance local councilmen who were trying to reduce pension costs and cut jobs at City Hall, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.

As part of their work, Impola and private investigator Chris Lanzillo allegedly placed a GPS tracker on Councilman Steve Mensinger's car and later called in a false DUI report on Righeimer as he was leaving Skosh Monahan's, a restaurant owned by fellow Councilman Gary Monahan.

Prosecutors say they have no evidence that the police union knew of any illegal activity beforehand.

The restraining order bars Impola from Skosh Monahan's and from contacting Righeimer, Mensinger and a third alleged victim tracked by GPS, an attorney who was working for a law firm competing with Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir.

Impola's attorney, David Vaughn, declined to discuss details of the case but suggested in a court filing this week that the allegations might be inflated.

“These counts could have been charged as misdemeanors,” Vaughn wrote. “They do not involve violence.”

Vaughn's filing was in response to a request from the California attorney general's office to suspend Impola's state-issued license to operate a private security patrol.

The attorney general's office asked for the suspension as a condition of Impola's bail. He is free on $25,000 bond.

jeremiah.dobruck@latimes.com

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