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P.I. denies setting up Costa Mesa councilman by making DUI call

August 28, 2012 |  5:45 pm

Jim Righeimer
A private investigator who called police and reported that he suspected Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer of drunk driving denied allegations that he was hired to investigate the politician.

Chris Lanzillo, 42, said in a statement that he was on another assignment the night he spotted Righeimer getting into his SUV outside Skosh Monahan's, a local steakhouse and pub owned by one of Righeimer's council colleagues.

"If I was setting him up merely by calling 911, what was the purpose?" Lanzillo wrote Monday night. "Ultimately, an officer would have to make the call on if he violated any laws."

Righeimer, however, contended in a news conference Tuesday that he believes he was targeted by Lanzillo, a Menifee private investigator with ties to an Upland law firm that represents public-employee unions, because of his conservative politics.

Lanzillo, a former Riverside police detective, served as president of its police association before leaving the department in 2010.

Lanzillo said he could not reveal what he was investigating in Costa Mesa, saying only that it had nothing to do with Righeimer. He said the councilman's assertion of a union set up "does not make sense."

The private investigator questioned the field sobriety test given to Righeimer, terming it "suspicious" and asked why a Breathalyzer wasn't used.

The officer at the scene found Righeimer, who said he had been drinking Diet Coke, sober.

"I believe the officer realized who the person was and thought it was best to leave it alone," Lanzillo said. "This is apparent by [Righeimer's] ... behavior that night and the bully he has become days after the incident."

After placing the call, Lanzillo said he felt "harassed" by police.

"I have never heard of a police lieutenant calling a person the next day to inquire about a call made on a suspected hazardous driver," Lanzillo said. "The California Highway Patrol would never call a person the next day to ask about where I worked and what was I doing. The Highway Patrol has signs all over the freeway asking the public to call 911 on all hazardous drivers."

He said if he was trying to skirt accountability he would not have provided his name and phone number to the dispatcher.

Councilman Steve Mensinger said he believed Righeimer was targeted because of remarks the mayor pro tem made about the Lackie, Dammeier & McGill law firm, which has used Lanzillo's services as an investigator, during last week's council meeting.

The firm until Friday provided counsel to the Costa Mesa Police Officers' Assn., which said in a statement it was not involved in the 911 call made by Lanzillo. The firm has also said it did not retain Lanzillo to follow Righeimer.

The investigation into whether Lanzillo made a false report to police is ongoing, said Lt. Tim Schennum.


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-- Lauren Williams and Joseph Serna, Daily Pilot

Photo: Jim Righeimer. Credit: Daily Pilot