A former Huntington Beach police officer who conspired to help a woman fix a traffic ticket was sentenced today to one year of probation and 100 hours of community service.
Erik Michael Krause, 44, received the same sentence as co-defendant Michael John Zannitto, 47, a former Garden Grove police officer, who was sentenced Jan. 25.
They were both convicted Dec. 6 of a misdemeanor count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
If the officers do not complete the community service they would have to serve 30 days in jail, Deputy District Attorney Chris Duff said.
Zannitto was remorseful at his sentencing and apologized to Krause and others for the conspiracy, Duff said.
The prosecutor recommended community service instead of jail time because he feels the crime would have to be more significant to merit time behind bars for police officers.
Zannito was on the Garden Grove force for 11 years and Krause was a 22-year veteran of the Huntington Beach Police Department. They both lost their jobs after they were charged.
Krause issued a traffic ticket on Nov. 9, 2011 to a 32-year-old woman who was accused of speeding around an idling school bus, Duff said.
Zannitto met the woman later that month at Knott’s Berry Farm while he was off duty and not in uniform, Duff said.
The traffic ticket came up in their conversation and Zannitto offered to help her get the citation dismissed, Duff said.
The woman — identified by Zannitto’s attorney Joe Dane as Sarinna Chavez — testified in the trial under a grant of immunity, Dane said.
Chavez, who works in the alcohol industry, later offered free samples of liquor to Zannitto in exchange for his help getting the ticket tossed, according to the prosecutor, who further said that the two exchanged text messages on how to “fix” the ticket.
Zannitto advised the woman to challenge the ticket in a “trial by written declaration” in which motorists can avoid going to court and contest a citation through the mail.
Zannitto contacted Krause last January, and they discussed how to handle the citation, after which he filed a request to have the ticket thrown out “in the interest of justice,” Duff said.
A lieutenant in the department who was going over the responses from officers to the trial by declaration cases thought Krause’s request was suspicious and started investigating, Duff said.
Krause’s request to have the citation dismissed was never filed in court so Chavez’s ticket was thrown out, Duff said.
The woman was not charged in the conspiracy because prosecutors do not have a witness, “and I don’t think she knew what was happening was against the law,” Duff said. “She didn’t realize the steps necessary to get a ticket dismissed.”