Two private detectives were ordered Thursday to stand trial on charges stemming from an alleged attempt to set up Costa Mesa City Councilman Jim Righeimer for a DUI and the electronic tracking of another councilman and a lawyer.
One defendant — Christopher Joseph Lanzillo — faces trial on two felony counts of conspiring to unlawfully track someone with GPS devices, a felony count of attempted false imprisonment, and a misdemeanor count of filing a false police report.
Co-defendant Scott Alan Impola was ordered to stand trial on the two felony counts related to the GPS tracking.
Judge Denise De Bellefeuille, a retired jurist who presided over the preliminary hearing, dismissed false imprisonment and filing a false police report counts against Impola.
The two men were originally charged with felony false imprisonment, but the judge found insufficient evidence for that count and knocked it down to attempted false imprisonment. Righeimer was detained by police for about 90 seconds, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Robert Mestman.
Prosecutors will discuss whether to refile the charges before the defendants are arraigned on the new charges Sept. 8, Mestman said.
Costa Mesa Officer Jason Chamness — who was president of the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association in August 2012 — testified for prosecutors at the preliminary hearing under a grant of immunity.
Chamness said the union upped its retainer to the now-defunct law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill &Ethir from $500 to $1,500 a month to dig up dirt on Councilman Gary Monahan and Mayor Stephen Mensinger and candidate Colin McCarthy. The firm’s official task was “candidate research,” meaning the union wanted to know if the candidates were ever guilty of open meeting law violations and how they voted on various issues in the past, Chamness testified. The defendant private detectives worked for the firm.
Union officials were concerned that Mensinger, Monahan and Righeimer, who was elected in 2010, formed a bloc would meet privately to discuss public business in violation of the Brown Act, Chamness testified.
When Mestman asked Chamness if the union wanted “dirt” on the politicians, the officer replied that he couldn’t recall using that word in discussions with his lawyers, but added, “I’m not opposed to using that term.”
Chamness said he eventually got “frustrated” with the firm as the election neared because the lawyers had not done anything.
“It was my opinion that I could get on a computer and get droves of data” myself, Chamness testified.
A day after Righeimer was pulled over by police after leaving Monahan’s restaurant, another officer phoned Chamness about the incident and the two “laughed” about it.
“We laughed a bit and said, ‘That’s another thing we’re going to be blamed for,’ ” Chamness testified. Union officials felt that Righeimer, Monahan and Mensinger posed a threat to cut back public safety funding, Chamness testified.
Chamness testified he had never heard of the private investigators before the incident with Righeimer, who was almost immediately cleared by police of any wrongdoing and had just had a couple of Diet Cokes at Monahan’s restaurant before he was pulled over. Lanzillo is accused of following Righeimer in traffic and calling 911 to falsely report erratic driving.
Authorities also allege that the defendants 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,” according to an arrest warrant issued in the case.
Investigators alleged 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#.”
Lanzillo and Impola are also accused of placing GPS tracking devices on the cars of Mensinger and attorney Robert Wexler in the summer of 2012. Wexler worked for a competing firm to the one employing the defendants.
— Wire reports