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Judge orders P.I. to stay away from councilmen Righeimer, Mensinger

An Orange County Superior Court judge on Wednesday ordered a private investigator to stay away from two Costa Mesa councilmen he allegedly helped surveil in the run-up to local 2012 elections.

Scott Alan Impola appeared in court to face felony conspiracy and false-imprisonment charges filed by prosecutors this month as part of allegations that he was part of a plan to dig up dirt on political opponents of the local police union.

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The false-imprisonment charge relates to the filing of a police report that caused Councilman Jim Righeimer to be detained briefly when an officer responded to his home to perform a sobriety test, according to prosecutors.

Impola, 46, did not enter a plea, instead delaying his arraignment until next month. But in a filing Tuesday, his lawyer called the charges against him "ambitious."

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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 surveil and research local councilmen who were trying to cut pension costs and reduce 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 put 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.

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Impola's attorney, David Vaughn, declined to discuss details of the case Wednesday but suggested in a court filing a day earlier 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's currently free on a $25,000 bond.

Vaughn protested in the filing that the suspension would strip Impola and 16 people he employs of their livelihood.

The document also downplays Impola's involvement in the alleged conspiracy.

"The only overt act alleged against Mr. Impola is that he and Mr. Lanzillo communicated with each other via telephone and text messaging; the content of those communications is not set forth," Vaughn wrote. "By contrast, Mr. Lanzillo is alleged to have called 911 and spoken with a police officer."

The attorney general's motion is scheduled for Jan. 15, the same day as Impola's new arraignment.

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Lanzillo was already scheduled for arraignment Jan. 15.

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