Suspension of licenses sought for investigators in Costa Mesa case

Suspension of licenses sought for investigators in Costa Mesa case
Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer in front of Skosh Monahan's pub in Costa Mesa. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

State prosecutors want two private eyes accused of tailing and trying to embarrass two Costa Mesa councilmen before the 2012 city elections to have their licenses suspended as they await trial.

The investigators, Chris Lanzillo and Scott Impola, appeared in Orange County Superior Court this week, but did not enter pleas on charges of felony conspiracy and false imprisonment.


Prosecutors say Lanzillo and Impola were hired by the Costa Mesa police union to dig up dirt on political opponents. The Costa Mesa Police Assn. has said its members had no knowledge of the alleged unlawful activity until after the fact and then quickly fired the law firm where the two investigators worked.

Lanzillo and Impola are each free on $25,000 bond. But the state attorney general's office has asked that as a condition of their bail, an Orange County judge suspend their state licenses to work in the private security industry and to carry firearms and batons on the job.

According to prosecutors, Lanzillo and Impola used a GPS device to track Councilman Steve Mensinger and phoned in a false report while tailing Councilman Jim Righeimer.

A Costa Mesa police officer responded to Righeimer's home, where the councilman took and passed a sobriety test. The incident sparked the charge of false imprisonment, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.

"Their false imprisonment of another person reflects a blatant violation of that person's personal liberty," the attorney general office's filing states. "Their choice to place a GPS device on someone's vehicle reflects a deliberate invasion of privacy. In short, one who commits such acts cannot be trusted to do business with unsuspecting consumers."

Lanzillo has a private investigator's license, and Impola is licensed to operate a private security patrol, according to online records.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Adrian Contreras said the requested suspensions wouldn't affect any local permits that Lanzillo or Impola may have to carry weapons.

Lawyers for the defendants have opposed the suspension request.

"Lanzillo is not a danger to anybody," said Nancy Kardon, one of his attorneys.

Impola's lawyer, David Vaughn, argued in court papers that the charges against his client involve nonviolent conduct and could have been charged as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

A hearing on the license suspension request is scheduled Feb. 6. The defendants' arraignment was rescheduled for that date.

Superior Court judges have authorized restraining orders on Lanzillo and Impola. Both are barred from contacting Righeimer and Mensinger or visiting Skosh Monahan's, a restaurant owned by Councilman Gary Monahan where the private investigators allegedly began tailing the politicians.