A guilty plea in California offers hope.
Steven Greenhut writes:
Private detective Christopher Joseph Lanzillo, a former Riverside police officer, pleaded guilty last week (reversing his previous not-guilty plea) to four felony counts, including false imprisonment related to a 2012 scheme allegedly to set up City Councilman Jim Righeimer and Mayor Stephen Mensinger. A second detective, Scott Impola, awaits trial. He has pleaded not guilty to the same charges.
At the time, the Costa Mesa Police Association was involved in a nasty political battle with the City Council’s majority, which was trying to reform Costa Mesa’s overburdened pension system and outsource some public services. Righeimer and Mensinger were leaders of the reform movement. On Aug. 22, Righeimer had just spoken to a community meeting and then headed to a pub owned by another political ally, Councilman Gary Monahan.
Righeimer had a couple of diet sodas and drove home. After he got there, he said he received a knock on the door from a Costa Mesa police officer asking him to step outside for a DUI test. Righeimer, who wasn’t drunk, was detained for a while and released. According to prosecutors and news reports, the police response was sparked by a 911 call from Lanzillo. The call reportedly claimed Righeimer stumbled out of the bar and was “just swerving all over the road.” Surveillance video showed no such thing.
Lanzillo worked for a law firm that was then employed by the local police union. Prosecutors say Lanzillo was trying to catch the union’s political foes in an embarrassing situation. The scheme also included allegations of placing a GPS tracking device on Mensinger’s car. The Costa Mesa Police Association admits hiring the law firm that employed the private detectives to do “candidate research,” but adamantly denies knowing about any illegal behavior.