It's already about a month old, but the story of how private investigators working on behalf of the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association got charged with felonies deserves repeating--even The Naked Gun couldn't create a plot this juicy.
To wit: Christopher Joseph Lanzillo of Lake Arrowhead and Canyon Lake resident Scott Alan Impola, 46, used boobs to try to pry damaging information from one city councilman and planned to follow two other council members to Las Vegas in hopes of catching at least one snorting cocaine off a prostitute, according to Orange County Superior Court records. Following an exhaustive investigation by the Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA) that relied on FBI and Costa Mesa police records, surveillance video, phone and text message records, newspaper articles, websites, and interviews with a rogue's gallery of players, the two were arrested late last month.
Each was originally held on $25,000 bail and charged with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit a crime of unlawful use of an 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 and Impola, both former Riverside police officers, worked as investigators for now-defunct Upland law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill, and Ethir, which the Costa Mesa cop union hired to conduct "candidate research," including surveillance of Costa Mesa City Council members, in the months leading up to the November 2012 election.
The firm, which represented several Southern California law-enforcement unions, boasted on its website about the "Playbook" used during contract negotiations with cities. The Playbook called for targeting city or county officials seen as "hostile" to the police unions; talked of "various tools available to an association to put political pressure on decision makers"; and noted the goal was not to sway the public, but rather to "simply annoy decision makers into giving in to your position." A "Public Blunders" bullet point called for specifically making known the mistakes of a mayor, council member, city manager or police chief, advising the pressure continue "until that person assures you [of] his loyalty, and then move on to the next victim."
Gary Monahan, Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger represented a Costa Mesa City Council majority in 2012 that the cop union considered hostile during contract negotiations in the months leading up to city elections because they favored reining in pension costs.
According to an affidavit by OCDA Investigator Kory DeGraffenreid filed with the arrest warrants for Lanzillo and Impola, the private investigators used GPS devices to unlawfully track the vehicles of Mensinger and an attorney with a law firm that was a Lackie, Dammeier, McGill, and Ethir competitor. Lanzillo is alleged to have used cash to purchase the devices from an Ontario spy shop and the phony names Robert Teller and Teller Investigations to subscribe to the tracking service.
Apparently, the union was prepared to follow Mensinger and Righeimer all the way to Las Vegas, according to a May 3, 2012, email that is also included in DeGraffenreid's affidavit. The message is from Costa Mesa Police Officers Association treasurer Mitch Johnson to then-president Jason Chamness, board member Rob Dimel and negotiator Paul Beckman (all of whom remain members of the Costa Mesa police force):
"If it hasn't already been discussed, maybe we should think of informing DETER that RIGG and MESS will be in Vegas soon. I'm sure they will be dealing with other 'developer' friends, a Brown Act or two, and I think Mess if [sic] a doper and has moral issues. I could totally see him sniffing coke of [sic] a prostitute. Just a thought."
(To clarify: DETER is Lackie, Dammeier, McGill, and Ethir partner Dieter Dammeier; RIGG is Righeimer; and MESS is Mensinger. And I'm going to take a wild stab that Johnson meant to write, "I could totally see him sniffing coke OFF a prostitute.")
Using the wiles of a shapely woman also figures into Lanzillo and Impola targeting Monahan. The affidavit states that video surveillance from Skosh Monahan's restaurant shows Impola was in the councilman's business on Aug. 22, 2012, when Monahan, Righeimer and Mensinger were there. So was Kendrin Haskell, who walked in "dressed in jeans with decorative adornments on the back pockets, [a] lace V-neck blouse exposing her cleavage, with a large gray, over-the-shoulder handbag," DeGraffenreid notes in the affidavit.
Impola is seen alone at a table covering his mouth with his hand while speaking into a cell phone, and records would later indicate he was talking or texting with Lanzillo, Dammeier and Haskell at the time, the affidavit states. Haskell positioned herself in a way to get Monahan's attention, and it worked, as both are seen in the video briefly chatting with one another, the OCDA investigator writes.
"She is hooking Monaghan [sic] now . . . He is in love she has his cell#," Impola wrote in one coded text to Lanzillo, referencing Monahan and Haskell.
Monahan would later tell investigators that the woman 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" and an email address, DeGraffenreid states. While leaving, she told Monahan she would be back, and the councilman "remembered giving Haskell his business card, which had his cell phone number on it."
Monahan told the OCDA the woman never returned or called. After being served a search warrant, Haskell admitted knowing Impola, whom she'd met through her family, and confirmed she had gone to Skosh Monahan's that August day, but she said she only had a drink alone. When the OCDA investigator noted the restaurant's surveillance video showed she'd chatted up Monahan, Haskell asked to speak with her attorney. Her cell phone contained a photo of Monahan, Righeimer and Mensinger sitting at a table in the restaurant and a campaign photo of Monahan, the affidavit also notes.
It was a different incident involving the restaurant that same August day that led to the investigation that culminated with the arrests of Lanzillo and Impola. The latter had observed Righeimer drinking a couple of dark-colored beverages before leaving and getting into his black Yukon to drive home around 5:45 p.m.
Lanzillo is accused of calling 9-1-1 to falsely report he saw a man stumble out of Skosh Monahan's and get into a black Yukon, which Lanzillo followed and claimed to see swerve on the road as if the driver were under the influence of alcohol or disabled. Lanzillo told a Costa Mesa police dispatcher that he followed the Yukon to a home, giving Righeimer's address.
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With Lanzillo watching from his parked white SUV, the councilman was briefly detained outside his home during the DUI investigation. But Righeimer passed a sobriety test and was determined to not be under the influence because he'd only consumed Diet Cokes, not alcohol, at Skosh Monahan's.
Lanzillo later admitted during questioning that Righeimer did not stumble out of the bar and was not swerving when he drove, but DeGraffenreid also writes in the affidavit that Lanzillo later contradicted himself, saying that the officer who confronted Righeimer probably backed off when he realized the suspect was a council member.
Righeimer immediately went public with accusations that he was put under surveillance by the police union, which claimed the elected official was paranoid. But Righeimer and Mensinger have an active lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court against the union, its former law firm and Lanzillo.
Ironically, the mother of Lanzillo's wife feared Righeimer would sue her son-in-law, according to an Aug. 25, 2012, text exchange between Christopher and Kellie Lanzillo that is included with DeGraffenreid's affidavit. "OMG . . . even if we got sued dieter [sic] would cover the cost," the husband assures the wife. "I Can't believe she [sic] so worried. I didn't plant dope on him."