Two private investigators accused of tailing an Orange County councilman with a GPS device and setting up another by calling in a false drunk driving report were charged Thursday with false imprisonment and conspiracy to commit a crime, the district attorney’s office said.
The Costa Mesa councilmen were targeted in the midst of a protracted city-police fight in 2012. The detectives were hired hands for an Upland law firm that had an advertised client list of more than 120 public safety unions and a reputation for aggressive attacks on City Hall, prosecutors say.
Christopher Joseph Lanzillo, 45, of Lake Arrowhead and Scott Alan Impola, 46, of Canyon Lake put a GPS monitor on Councilman Steve Mensinger’s car in July 2012, prosecutors say, and tracked him for about a month.
In August, prosecutors say, Impola and Lanzillo worked together to call in a fake DUI report on then-Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer after he left a bar owned by another Costa Mesa councilman.
After getting the drunk driving report, a Costa Mesa police officer detained Righeimer outside his home, administered a sobriety test and determined that Righeimer hadn’t been drinking, according to the district attorney’s office.
Lanzillo and Impola face one felony count each of conspiracy to commit a crime of unlawful use of an electronic tracking device, false imprisonment by deceit, and conspiracy to commit a crime of falsely reporting crime.
At the time, Lanzillo and Impola were working for Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, a law firm that was on retainer for the Costa Mesa Police Assn., according to prosecutors.
Righeimer and Mensinger later sued the police association, the law firm and Lanzillo.
The Costa Mesa Police Assn. repeatedly has denied any knowledge of the false DUI call or GPS tracking.
“The association had the Lackie firm on retainer for years for general legal work and administrative representation for its members,” association lawyer Paul Meyer said in a statement. “The law firm was quickly terminated when the controversy arose.”
However, in the run-up to the election, the association tripled the firm’s retainer from $500 to $1,500 a month, according to the district attorney’s office.
Both detectives were arrested in Riverside County, according to prosecutors. Lanzillo is being held at Riverside County Jail on $25,000 bail and Impola was released after posting bond.
Jeremiah Dobruck writes for Times Community News.