Boobs Were Used to Get Dirt on Costa Mesa City Councilman: Case Against Cop Union's P.I.s

Jim Righeimer at a Costa Mesa City Council meeting years ago. He's one of the victims of union private investigators, the DA says.
Jim Righeimer at a Costa Mesa City Council meeting years ago. He's one of the victims of union private investigators, the DA says.
Photo by Chasen Marshall/OC Weekly

UPDATE, DEC. 16, 9:31 A.M.: Costa Mesa's CEO and acting police chief issued a joint statement reacting to the Orange County District Attorney's case against two private investigators--who worked for a law firm retained by the city's cop union in the weeks before the November 2012 election--accused of illegally spying on two City Council members.

Joint statement from City CEO Tom Hatch and Acting Police Chief Rob Sharpnack on the Orange County District Attorney's investigation into surveillance of councilmembers

Posted Date: 12/15/2014

Recently, the Orange County District Attorney stated that the Costa Mesa Police Officers Assn. paid to have some of our elected officials surveiled in the months prior to the November 2012 election. We find this deeply concerning and will work vigorously to obtain and evaluate all information about the conduct of any involved Costa Mesa police officers, whether on or off duty, and to do so in a thorough and unbiased manner.

Close scrutiny is being given to whether, and in what manner, any member of the Costa Mesa Police Department had culpable knowledge of or aided in the surveillance of our elected officials, or engaged in any other violation of the rules, regulations and standards of conduct of the City and Police Department.

If warranted and in coordination with the District Attorney's Office to insure no impacts on its criminal investigation, an internal investigation will be initiated by the City and conducted by an independent party to provide all concerned with confidence in the completeness, fairness, and impartiality of that process. Strong and appropriate action will be taken if misconduct has occurred.

We are sorry that Mayor Steve Mensinger, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilmember Gary Monahan and their families were put in this unacceptable situation.

Meanwhile, City News Service's Paul Anderson reports on the contents of an arrest warrant in the case against private investigators Christopher Joseph Lanzillo and Scott Alan Impola, who are accused of using boobs to get dirt on Councilman Gary Monahan:

In an arrest warrant issued in the case, it was alleged that the men got Kendrin Haskell to go to Monahan's restaurant to try to "observe unethical behavior on behalf of Gary Monahan that could potentially affect the outcome of the Costa Mesa City Council election in November of 2012."

Investigators allege in the arrest warrant that Impola sent a coded text message to Lanzillo saying, "She is hooking Monaghan now... He is in love she has his cell#."

The investigator said video surveillance of the restaurant shows Haskell, "dressed in jeans with decorative adornments on the back pockets, lace v-neck blouse exposing her cleavage with a large gray, over-the-shoulder handbag" entering the restaurant.

Haskell gets Monahan's attention and two sit together and talk, according to the arrest warrant. Monahan told investigators she told him she was waiting for a friend who didn't show and that she had just moved into the area from Seattle and wanted to know more about the city.

"They talked about football and she filled out a mailing list card with the name Shelby Mitchell," according to the arrest warrant. "Monahan remembered giving Haskell his business card, which had his cellphone number on it."

The arrest warrant also deals with a meeting between police union president Jason Chamness, union board member Rob Dimel and association treasurer Mitch Johnson about bumping up union dues to cover the costs of hiring the private investigators.

"During that meeting, Chamness and Johnson were hesitant to answer (the investigator's) questions and were not making sense," according to the arrest warrant.

"When (the investigator) pressed further, they eventually stated that the increase was for (attorney Dieter Dammeier's now-defunct law firm) and was going to be used to go after politicians. However, the money was going to be disguised under the billing category of 'legal fees.'"

Chamness is accused of initially denying the union dues would be used "to go after politicians prior to the election," but at a July 23 grand jury hearing this year, Chamness testified that in the spring of 2012 he asked Dammeier how much it would cost to hire a private investigator to do "candidate research," according to the arrest warrant.

"Months later, Chamness complained to Dammeier that he had not seen any reports or any results from the PI's 'candidate research' and alluded to the fact that the (police union) was not getting its money's worth," the arrest warrant alleges.

"Chamness later stated that the candidate research included digging up dirt on the council members because he believed they were corrupt and breaking the law, specifically the Brown Act."

ORIGINAL POST, DEC. 12, 6:37 A.M.: Two private investigators who worked for a law firm retained by the Costa Mesa Police Officers' Association (CMPOA) were arrested on four felony counts each related to the harassment of a competitor attorney and two City Council members who were critical of union tactics and rising pension costs.

Jim Righeimer, Steve Mensinger, Costa Mesa Mayor and Councilman, v. Cop Union Lives!

Following an exhaustive investigation by the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA)--the incidents at the center of the case stem from the 2012 election season--Christopher Joseph Lanzillo, 45, of Lake Arrowhead, and Scott Alan Impola, 46, Canyon Lake, were arrested and held in lieu of $25,000 bail each. They are each charged with 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 agency. Their arraignment date in pending.

Lanzillo and Impola were retained by former Upland law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill, and Ethir (LDME) to conduct "candidate research," including surveillance on Costa Mesa council members, in the months leading up to the November 2012 election, according to the OCDA.

On June 19, 2012, Lanzillo is accused of purchasing a GPS monitoring device using the alias of Robert Teller with Teller Investigations. With Impola, Lanzillo allegedly conspired to place the device on Councilman Stephen Mensinger's vehicle between July 25 and Aug. 22, 2012--without Mensinger's knowledge or permission. The defendants then tracked the councilman's movements, according to the DA.

Councilmen Jim Righeimer and then-Mayor Gary Monahan were at Monahan's Skosh Monahan's restaurant and bar in Costa Mesa on Aug. 22, 2012, when Impola allegedly arrived to scope out Monahan for evidence that would be damaging politically. Impola, Lanzillo and LDME Managing Partner Dieter Dammeier allegedly kept in contact with one another by cell phones and text messages. Around 5:45 p.m., Righeimer left the restaurant in his vehicle after consuming two dark-colored beverages.

Lanzillo is accused of calling 9-1-1 to falsely report that he saw a man stumble out of Skosh Monahan's, get into a vehicle matching the description of Righeimer's and that the vehicle swerved on the road as if the driver was under the influence of alcohol or disabled. The Costa Mesa Police Department dispatched an officer to Righeimer's home, where he was detained for a DUI investigation. But he passed a sobriety test and was determined not to be under the influence for good reason: he'd had sodas, not alcohol, at the bar. "It was later determined that Councilman Righeimer did not stumble out of the bar and was not swerving when he drove," says the OCDA.

Between June 21-July 12, 2012, Lanzillo and Impola allegedly conspired to place a GPS tracking device on the vehicle of an attorney at a law firm that was a competitor to LDME without the victim's knowledge or permission. Lanzillo and Impola are accused of using the GPS device to illegally track the lawyer.

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Lanzillo and Impola face up to four years and four months in jail, as well as revocation of their private investigators' licenses, with convictions, says the OCDA.

Last spring, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail A. Andler allowed a lawsuit brought by Righeimer and Mensinger against the cop union, LDME and Lanzillo to proceed.

Email: Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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