SANTA ANA, Calif. – A private investigator working for a law firm retained by the Costa Mesa Police Officers' Association (CMPOA) was sentenced today to one year in county jail for committing crimes against two Costa Mesa council members and a competitor attorney. Christopher Joseph Lanzillo, 47, Lake Arrowhead, pleaded guilty to the court on Sept. 28, 2016, to two felony counts of conspiracy to commit a crime of unlawful use of electronic tracking device, one felony count of false imprisonment by deceit, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit a crime of falsely reporting crime to an agency. Lanzillo was sentenced to 364 days in county jail and three years formal probation.
Co-defendant Scott Alan Impola, 49, Canyon Lake, is facing the same charges and is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing on June 8, 2017, at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-5, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.
Lanzillo was convicted of and Impola is accused of committing the following crimes:
At the time of the crimes, Lanzillo and Impola worked as private investigators for the former Upland-based law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill, and Ethir (LDME). CMPOA retained LDME to conduct “candidate research,” including surveillance on Costa Mesa city council members, in the months leading up to the November 2012 election.
On June 19, 2012, Lanzillo purchased a GPS monitoring device using the alias Robert Teller with Teller Investigations.
Then-Councilman Stephen Mensinger
Between July 25, 2012, and Aug. 22, 2012, Lanzillo and Impola conspired to place a GPS tracking device on the vehicle of Mensinger without his knowledge or permission. Lanzillo and Impola used the GPS device to illegally track Mensinger's location.
Councilman Jim Righeimer
On Aug. 22, 2012, Righeimer and then-Councilman Gary Monahan were at the restaurant Skosh Monahan's in Costa Mesa. Impola conducted an operation searching for evidence to use against Monahan's political career. Lanzillo arrived near the restaurant a short time later.
Lanzillo and Impola communicated with each other and LDME Managing Partner Dieter Dammeier using their cell phones and through text messages. At approximately 5:45 p.m., Righeimer left the restaurant in his vehicle and drove home after he had consumed two non-alcoholic beverages.
Lanzillo called 911 and falsely reported that he observed a man stumble out of the location and into a vehicle that matched the description of Righeimer's vehicle. Lanzillo falsely reported that the vehicle was swerving on the road and that the driver may be under the influence of alcohol or disabled.
The Costa Mesa Police Department (CMPD) dispatched an officer to conduct an investigation. Righeimer was detained outside his home during the investigation.
After administering a sobriety test and not observing any objective symptoms of intoxication, the officer determined that Righeimer was not under the influence, and he was released. It was later determined that Righeimer did not stumble out of the bar and was not swerving when he drove.
Between June 21, 2012, and July 12, 2012, Lanzillo and Impola conspired to place a GPS tracking device on the vehicle of an attorney at a law firm that was a competitor to the LDME firm without the victim's knowledge or permission. Lanzillo and Impola used the GPS device to illegally track the location information of the victim.
CMPD provided reports and information to the Orange County District Attorney's Office (OCDA). The OCDA conducted an extensive investigation into all matters surrounding this incident.
Acting Assistant District Attorney Chris Duff is prosecuting this case.
Lanzillo's Statement from the Advisement and Waiver of Rights for a Felony Guilty Plea
“In Orange County, California, on and between 6/19/12-8/24/12 I and Scott Impola did unlawfully conspire together and with another person to commit the crime of unlawful use of electronic tracking device against Stephen Mensinger and Robert Wexler, in violation of Penal Code section 637.7(a). And on or about Aug. 22, 2012 did unlawfully violate the personal liberty of Jim Righeimer by fraud and deceit. And on or about 8/22/12, I and Scott Impola did unlawfully conspire together and with another person to commit the crime of falsely reporting a crime to agency in violation of Penal Code section 148.5(c).”
Victim Impact Statements
At Lanzillo's sentencing today, both Mensinger and Righeimer gave victim impact statements to the court pursuant to Marsy's Law.
Mensinger said in part, “The emotional and physical impact on my family, which includes my wife, two sons, and 77-year-old mother in law, has been etched deep … All of us have endured ridicule, innuendo, and threats. This entire episode has had a severe impact on our family both personally and professionally … While I may have been the original target of the police union's wrath, the truth is my family has paid a great price for me simply doing my job to protect the fiscal interest of the residents of Costa Mesa.”
Righeimer said in part, “It pains me that I feel unsafe in the city I live in. I worry if my home will be serviced if I have to call 911. I worry if I need help that once they know who is calling that they might delay the response time … Our family has felt humiliation by the entire experience, we were the target to put the pressure on.”
Orange County District Attorney / Case # 14CF3962 / March 17, 2017