An Orange County prosecutor Friday moved to dismiss charges against a private investigator accused of trying to set up Costa Mesa City Councilman Jim Righeimer with a phony DUI arrest — because the defendant has died.

Scott Impola, who was 49, died July 10, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Chris Duff.

“It’s very unfortunate when anybody that young passes away,” Righeimer told City News Service. “I feel for his family. For them to lose someone that young, my goodness.”

Co-defendant Christopher Joseph Lanzillo, 47, is serving a one-year jail sentence. He pleaded guilty Sept. 28 to felony charges of false imprisonment and conspiracy to file a false police report. He was sentenced March 17 and began serving his term March 22.

Now that the criminal case is over, the civil suit Righeimer and former Costa Mesa City Councilman Steve Mensinger filed against the Costa Mesa Police Association can proceed, Righeimer said.

“We’re finally going to get some discovery now that the criminal case is done,” Righeimer said. “We’ve gotten basically zero discovery.”

Impola and Lanzillo were accused of placing tracking devices on Mensinger’s car when he was on the City Council.

Righeimer was detained by police Aug. 22, 2012, for about 90 seconds, according to prosecutors. Lanzillo followed Righeimer in traffic and called 911 to falsely report erratic driving.

Prosecutors also alleged that the defendants got Kendrin Haskell to go to a restaurant owned by former Mayor Gary Monahan 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.

Impola’s attorney, David Vaughn, said his client had a strong argument for acquittal on the 911 call. Impola was just sitting in the bar when Lanzillo dialed 911, Vaughn said.

“There are no records of communication between him and Lanzillo while this whole thing was going down,” the defense attorney said. “He’s on videotape in the bar just sitting there. … At trial it would have come out he had no idea Lanzillo was going to do that.”

Vaughn said hundreds of people attended Impola’s funeral, including at least 100 from law enforcement, Vaughn said

“Speaker after speaker — people who knew him from high school through to the end — said you always felt like Scott was your best friend,” Vaughn said.

His friends said “he made everyone feel at ease,” Vaughn said.

Despite delays in the case, “He never complained,” his attorney said. “It was just remarkable.”

Impola was a police officer and then a detective for 17 years, earning at least seven commendations on the job, Vaughn said.

–City News Service

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