Jail time ordered for private investigator who tracked Costa Mesa council members
A former Riverside police detective hired by the Costa Mesa police union’s former law firm was sentenced Friday to nearly a year in Orange County Jail for illegally using an electronic tracking device and a false drunk-driving report while trying to dig up dirt on Costa Mesa City Council members.
Christopher Joseph Lanzillo, 46, had pleaded guilty in September to three felony counts of conspiracy to commit a crime and one felony count of false imprisonment by violence, menace, fraud or deceit, according to court records.
Join the conversation on Facebook >>
In addition to the jail sentence, Orange County Superior Court Judge W. Michael Hayes gave Lanzillo three years’ probation.
Lanzillo, a Lake Arrowhead resident, 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 to the 2012 City Council election, Lanzillo, working as a private investigator for the now-defunct Upland-based law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, illegally tracked then-Councilman Steve Mensinger and submitted a false drunk-driving report about then-Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer.
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 any previous 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 Monahan’s bar and restaurant on Newport Boulevard. During the drive, prosecutors contend, Lanzillo called 911, falsely reporting that Righeimer was driving erratically.
A police officer gave Righeimer a field sobriety test outside his Mesa Verde home, and he passed it. Righeimer later said he was only drinking Diet Coke that evening.
After the councilmen publicly aired what happened to them, the police union fired Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir.
Mensinger, Righeimer and Righeimer’s wife have filed a civil suit in the matter against the union, the law firm and Lanzillo. That case is ongoing.
Private investigator Scott Alan Impola, 48, of Canyon Lake is facing the same charges as Lanzillo, prosecutors said. He has pleaded not guilty.