D.A. says private investigators illegally tracked Costa Mesa councilmen
Men allegedly put a GPS device on the car on the city's mayor, followed mayor pro tem ahead of the 2012 election.
Orange County Register
Published: Dec. 11, 2014 Updated: 7:34 p.m.
Two private investigators for a defunct police legal firm have been charged with illegally harassing two Costa Mesa councilmen, the Orange County District Attorney said Thursday.
Scott Alan Impola, 46, and Christopher Joseph Lanzillo, 45, were arrested Wednesday and Thursday on suspicion of using a GPS tracking device to tail one councilman and phoning in a false DUI report on another, in an attempt to sully the politicians before the November 2012 election.
Lanzillo, a former Riverside police officer from Lake Arrowhead, and Impola, a former Riverside police detective from Canyon Lake, were hired by a law firm retained by the Costa Mesa Police Association to dig up dirt on Mayor Steven Mensinger and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, prosecutors allege. The firm, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, has been accused by cities throughout California of bullying them into supporting police unions and granting pay raises.
Mensinger’s car was parked in his driveway when the private investigators planted the electronic tracking device, which they used to track him from July to August 2012, according to authorities.
Then, the investigators on Aug. 22, 2012, followed Righeimer from a Costa Mesa bar and called 911 to make the phony DUI report, prosecutors said. Righeimer was detained outside his home, where he passed a field sobriety test. The councilman later produced a receipt at a news conference showing he had been drinking only Diet Coke at the bar.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Robert Mestman said the Costa Mesa police union retained the law firm specifically to hire the investigators to track the councilmen, but the union wasn’t charged because prosecutors had no evidence the union knew about the illegal conduct beforehand. Surveiling the councilman was not illegal, he said.
The Costa Mesa Police Association and its former Upland-based law firm of Lackie, Dammeier, McGill, and Ethir have vehemently denied having anything to do with the DUI report or GPS tracking device. After the incidents came to light, the police union fired the law firm, which openly promoted in seminars and on their website hardball tactics to coerce elected officials.
The law firm closed in January after it was accused by the Peace Officers Research Association of California of bilking the organization’s statewide police defense fund.
Mestman wouldn’t say whether the law firm would be charged for its role in Costa Mesa and said the investigation was ongoing.
Both Righeimer and Mensinger have been vocal critics of public unions and their sway over government proceedings, and have supported outsourcing many Costa Mesa city services. In the months leading up to the GPS tracking and DUI report, both councilmen approved a budget that cut police expenditures, restructured the department and reduced the number of sworn officers.
Both councilmen are suing Lanzillo, the Costa Mesa Police Association and its former law firm over the surveillance tactics.
“I’m very disappointed the Costa Mesa police union retained LDME to conduct candidate research, which included surveilling the council members,” Mensinger said Thursday. “The citizens of our community should understand that nobody should be extorted to make decisions on taxpayer funded compensation.”
“I have no doubt in the end, when the facts come out, that there will be additional attorneys sitting in jail,” he added.
Prosecutors charged Lanzillo and Impola each with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit a crime through the 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 by falsely reporting a crime.
The second GPS-tracking charge stems from prosecutors’ accusation that Lanzillo and Impola also planted an electronic surveillance device on the vehicle of an attorney at a competing law firm.
If convicted, the private investigators face up to four years and four months in jail and loss of their private investigator licenses.
Police arrested Impola Wednesday night in Riverside County and Lanzillo was arrested Thursday morning in San Bernadino County.
In September 2011, Impola pleaded guilty to misdemeanor burglary and was placed on 36 months probation and 30 days in a work-release program for a 2009 incident in which police said he forced his way into the apartment of his estranged wife and beat her male companion, according to court documents. He was also charged with running an unauthorized license plate check.
Impola was initially arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, but prosecutors later dropped the assault and license plate check charges.
Staff writers Tony Saavedra and Brian Rokos contributed to this report.
Friday, December 12, 2014
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Supreme Court: Police Need Warrants to Search Cellphone Data
Unanimous Supreme Court Says Privacy Interests Outweigh Police Convenience
June 25, 2014
WASHINGTON—A unanimous Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police must obtain a warrant to search the vast amount of information on a suspect's cellphone, broadly protecting Americans' privacy rights in the digital age.
The opinion, by Chief Justice John Roberts, dismissed law-enforcement arguments that no legal distinction existed between smartphones and the pocket litter that police long have been permitted to search when arresting a suspect—for instance, wallets, cigarette wrappers and address books.
"That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon," Chief Justice Roberts wrote. "Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet or a purse," he wrote.
Warrantless searches have been justified by the need to protect officers from hidden weapons and to prevent suspects from destroying evidence. Neither rationale applied to the digital data accessible through a cellphone or other mobile devices, the court found, in erecting a requirement that police go to court before rifling through email, text messages, phone records or other data.
The chief justice acknowledged that mobile devices are essential tools for today's criminals, as they are for most Americans, and that requiring police to seek a magistrate's permission to search them could impede some investigations.
But individual rights sometimes outweigh the convenience of government, he wrote, adding: "Privacy comes at a cost."
The decision, which built on several privacy rulings in recent years, was one of a pair Wednesday in which the high court forcefully applied age-old doctrines to a society rapidly being transformed by new technology. The warrant ruling, in particular, could have consequences for privacy questions that are likely to arise as technology advances.
The second decision involved online video technology by Aereo Inc., which was challenged by traditional broadcasters arguing it violated their copyrights. In Aereo, the court effectively said the company couldn't use technology workarounds to escape copyright restrictions for a service that captured broadcasting signals, recorded them and distributed someone else's content over the Web.
Privacy advocates hailed the cellphone ruling as a signal that the court would protect constitutional privacy interests from the vast powers of modern technology. "By recognizing that the digital revolution has transformed our expectations of privacy, today's decision is itself revolutionary and will help to protect the privacy rights of all Americans," said Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Law-enforcement officials were disappointed. Technology "is making it easier and easier for criminals to do their trade," while the court "is making it harder for law enforcement to do theirs," said Thomas Zugibe, district attorney in Rockland County, N.Y., who signed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing warrantless device searches were constitutional.
The Supreme Court has been grappling with modern technology's implications for core constitutional rights, alternately siding with law enforcement and the individual. Wednesday's opinion, however, was a watershed, showing that all nine justices are keen to re-examine categorical rules written for an earlier era.
The government, for instance, had argued a phone's call log could be searched under the 1979 precedent Smith v. Maryland, which held police didn't need a warrant to install an electronic device to record phone numbers dialed by a caller. The court dismissed that argument in the cellphone context.
That 1979 precedent also underlies the government's rationale for the vast surveillance apparatus tracking digital communications' "metadata" implemented since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. While the Smith case's validity wasn't at issue Wednesday, it could face scrutiny should it come before the justices.
"Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on arrestee's person," Chief Justice Roberts wrote. "Many of these devices are in fact minicomputers" that "could just as easily be called cameras, video players, rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps, or newspapers."
Moreover, the information a cellphone contains—or can access through the Internet cloud—can "reveal much more in combination than any isolated record" that might have previously been found in a suspect's pocket. "The sum of an individual's private life can be reconstructed" through photos, email, phone records, Internet search histories and other data, the court said.
"It is no exaggeration to say that many of the more than 90% of American adults who own a cell phone keep on their person a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives," it continued.
That an individual can now carry such a record so casually "does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought," the chief justice wrote.
The cellphone ruling came in a pair of cases from different ends of the country that had opposite results. A federal appeals court in Boston had found a cellphone search violated the Fourth Amendment protection against "unreasonable searches and seizures," which generally requires authorities to obtain a warrant from a magistrate before conducting a search.
But state courts in California ruled that anything found on a suspect's person—be it a cellphone or matchbook—could be searched under recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement.
Spokesmen for both the U.S. and California departments of justice promised to work with the law-enforcement agencies they supervise to implement Wednesday's decision.
"The department will work with its law-enforcement agencies to ensure full compliance with this decision," U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Ellen Canale said. "Our commitment to vigorously enforcing the criminal laws and protecting the public while respecting the privacy interests protected by the Fourth Amendment is unwavering."
Chief Justice Roberts suggested that would be simple. "Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cellphone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple—get a warrant," he wrote.
In those rare events where it truly would endanger public safety or risk a loss of evidence, police can act without a warrant and later argue in court their actions were justified by "exigent circumstances," he wrote.
Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the Roberts opinion in full. Justice Samuel Alito, who agreed in part, wrote separately to urge legislatures to take the lead in determining privacy rights, rather than leaving the matter to the courts.
Link to Supreme Court Opinion
Supreme Court Opinion
Link to Wall Street Journal Article
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Ex-Danville cop sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for 'dirty DUI' arrests
By Malaika Fraley Contra Costa Times
Posted: 02/19/2014 03:41:38 PM PST
SAN FRANCISCO -- A former Danville officer and Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months in federal prison for his role in a private investigator's scheme to set up men in ugly child custody battles for what became known as "dirty DUI" arrests.
Speaking publicly for the first time since his 2011 arrest, 50-year-old Stephen Tanabe told a judge he was unaware of the extent of now-incarcerated private investigator Christopher Butler's scheme and that he felt justified arresting drunken drivers. Tanabe admitted accepting a Glock handgun that prosecutors say was payment for arrests, but he claims it was not a "quid pro quo" situation. He again denied the government's claim that he was also paid in cocaine.
"I would not have thrown my career away to save $450 (on a Glock) if I thought what I was doing was wrong," said Tanabe, an Alamo father of two who started his law enforcement career in Honolulu in 1987 and worked at the Antioch Police Department before joining the Sheriff's Office.
"All I ever wanted to do was be a cop," Tanabe said, his voice breaking. "I destroyed that -- that's all one of the hardest things to swallow."
Tanabe said he regrets not testifying at his trial in September, when he was convicted of six felonies for conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion. He was acquitted of one wire fraud count related to text messages that prosecutors said pertained to the cocaine exchange.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for between 21 and 27 months in prison; Judge Charles Breyer did not explain why he handed Tanabe a shorter term.
Tanabe was arrested for the "dirty DUI" busts, and former San Ramon Officer Louis Lombardi was arrested for drug sales and thefts, based on Butler's statements to investigators after he and then-Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team Cmdr. Norman Wielsch were caught on video selling stolen drug evidence in February 2011.
Wielsch and Butler were sentenced to 14 and eight years, respectively, for the drug sales, robbing prostitutes, making false arrests and other crimes. Lombardi received three years. Butler's sentence is expected to be reduced, based on his testimony against Tanabe and others.
Earlier this month, former San Ramon divorce attorney Mary Nolan was sentenced to two years in prison for illegal wiretapping, working with Butler to plant listening devices in cars and tax evasion. Though she represented some of the ex-wives of the "dirty DUI" targets and was involved in the setups, Nolan was not charged in the "dirty DUIs" because the statute of limitations had lapsed, prosecutor Hartley West said in court Wednesday.
Butler said he attempted the "dirty DUI" scheme about a dozen times. His employees would entice the men to get drunk and then Butler would tip off police once they got into their cars. Those employees were usually attractive women pretending to be interested in the targets, but they sometimes were men pretending to be a reality TV producer or a journalist. Butler claimed Tanabe was the only officer he paid in connection with the setups, which were meant to make the targets look bad in their custody battles.
Tanabe was not remanded into custody Wednesday but was ordered to surrender himself to the Federal Bureau of Prisons by April 15. His sentencing allows for civil lawsuits filed by the DUI targets in federal court to resume.