Police officers from Garden Grove and Huntington Beach have been charged with conspiring with each other via texts and phone calls to get a legitimate traffic citation dismissed.
Erik Michael Krause, 43 and a 22-year veterans of HBPD, and Michael John Zannitto, a 46-year-old who has been on the Garden Grove force 11 years, each face misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice and sentences up to a year in jail with convictions.
Krause issued a 32-year-old woman a traffic citation for speeding near a stopped school bus on Nov. 9, 2011. Later that same month, Zannitto, who did not know Krause at the time, met the same woman at Knott's Berry Farm. Zannitto was off-duty and not in uniform at the Buena Park theme park, where the woman brought up her traffic ticket.
According to the Orange County District Attorney's office, Zannitto told the woman he could get her ticket "fixed." He is alleged to have texted the woman on Dec. 6, 2011, asking for a copy of her citation, which she sent seven days later. An employee of the alcohol industry, the woman is also said to have included pictures of booze and an offer of free alcohol in exchange for getting the traffic citation dismissed.
In the days leading up to Jan. 20, when Zannitto received a text message from the woman with a photo of the citation Krause issued, Zannitto is accused of instructing her to contest the traffic ticket via written declaration. Some time between then and Jan. 25, Zannitto is accused of contacting a Huntington Beach police sergeant, identifying himself as a Garden Grove police officer and asking to be put in contact with Krause because he had a question about a ticket his "sister" received.
Prosecutors allege Krause and Zannitto discussed the citation on Jan. 25, the same day the woman requested a trial on her citation, paid a $234 fee and contacted Zannitto to confirm she had followed his instructions. Between that day and Feb. 3, Krause is accused of informing Zannitto that he would take care of dismissing the woman's traffic citation.
Zannitto allegedly informed the woman of the break coming her way on Feb. 3, to which she responded they should meet so that she could give him "a bunch of alcohol." Zannitto is accused of replying, "Sounds good to me."
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Meanwhile, Krause is alleged to have submitted a false declaration to the Huntington Beach Police Department requesting the citation be dismissed, writing, "Please dismiss in the interest of justice. No notes . . ." Actually, prosecutors allege, he had written detailed notes on the original ticket.
Messages were exchanged between Krause and Zannitto, and Zannitto and the woman, indicating the matter had been taken care of, with the ticketed driver being further informed she would soon receive a refund for the citation payment. But a Huntington Beach police lieutenant became suspicious of Krause's declaration and launched an investigation. Krause's declaration was never filed with the court, and the citation was dismissed because no response to her contesting the ticket was filed.
Huntington Beach ultimately clued the Garden Grove agency into the investigation, and both recommended the district attorney file criminal charges against the officers, who are scheduled to be arraigned June 26 in Santa Ana.