Photo courtesy http://www.costamesaca.gov/index.aspx?page=909
Costa Mesa City Councilman Jim Righeimer. Photo via costamesaca.gov

A private investigator involved in an attempt to set up Costa Mesa City Councilman Jim Righeimer for a DUI arrest was sentenced to a year in jail Friday.

Christopher Joseph Lanzillo, a former Riverside police officer and Marine Corps veteran, was sentenced to 364 days in jail by Orange County Superior Court Judge W. Michael Hayes, who rejected a six-month jail term recommended by probation officials and the defendant’s attorney, Edward M. Robinson.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Chris Duff argued for a year in jail.

Lanzillo pleaded guilty Sept. 28 to felony charges of false imprisonment and conspiracy to file a false police report. He made an open plea to the judge, meaning there was no guarantee what his punishment would be.

Righeimer told Hayes how his false arrest affected his family.

“This experience has been very difficult for our whole family,” Righeimer said. “Having a daughter who suffers from anxiety and who has been treated by a psychologist in the past has yet again experienced severe anxiety due to witnessing her dad being falsely accused.”

He added that “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.”

Righeimer said his family “has felt humiliation” because of what happened. He also spoke of how constituents would call Righeimer, former Mayors Steve Mensinger and Gary Monahan “the bad guys” because of the conflict with the police.

“It is like Alice in Wonderland,” Righeimer said.

“This is what happens in Third World countries,” Righeimer said of the “union playbook” which he said calls on labor organizers to harass elected officials during contract negotiations.

“Mr. Lanzillo is a part of this corruption,” Righeimer said.

Righeimer also took aim at the now-defunct law firm that directed the tactics.

“I have talked to several officials who were extorted by this firm,” Righeimer said. “Till this day they refuse to go public.”

Mensinger, who had tracking devices placed on his car after he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the council and then was running for a term, said he and his family “now live with a fear of who to trust.”

Robinson argued that his client pleaded guilty “because he’s guilty and knows he’s guilty.” The defendant wrote a letter to the judge admitting he feels ashamed for “staining” the Marines with his conduct, Robinson said.

Robinson also acknowledged that his client’s activities were “an attack on democracy,” but he pleaded for mercy due to the defendant’s public service.

Hayes said his ruling was “based on politics in Orange County. I know he was a foot soldier in a firm using hardball tactics, but we just can’t have that in Orange County.”

Perhaps, Lanzillo rationalized the behavior because he thought he was working toward the “greater good” for fellow police officers, Hayes said, “but when you break that trust it’s aggravating, not mitigating… A message has to be clear.”

Hayes wanted to give Lanzillo two weeks to report to jail, but the defendant wanted to check in a week earlier than that. Lanzillo may apply to do time in a city jail as opposed to county jail if he is willing to pay for it, or he could ask to be placed on home confinement.

Righeimer and Mensinger are suing the Costa Mesa Police Association, which represents police officers and sergeants, their now-shuttered firm, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill and Ethir, and Lanzillo.

Prosecutors say Lanzillo’s effort was funded by the Costa Mesa Police Association, which represents police officers and sergeants.

Co-defendant Scott Impola, a former Riverside detective, is next due in court in June for a pretrial hearing.

Righeimer was detained by police Aug. 22, 2012, for about 90 seconds, Senior Deputy District Attorney Robert Mestman said.

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.

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 firm in competition with the one employing the defendants.

— City News Service

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