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P.I. says woman was sent to bar to flirt with Costa Mesa councilman

November 12, 2012 | 12:03 pm

A private investigator hired to tail two Costa Mesa council members said he was sent to a sports bar with a woman to see whether one of the councilmen would behave inappropriately.

Chris Lanzillo, a Menifee investigator and former police officer, told the Daily Pilot that he went to Councilman Gary Monahan's bar on Aug. 22 on behalf of a client he would not name to gather dirt on Monahan and and his colleague, Steve Mensinger, both of whom were running for reelection.

The private detective later followed a third council member, Jim Righeimer, from the bar and alerted police that the councilman appeared to be driving under the influence. Righeimer later passed a field sobriety test when contacted by police, and produced a receipt for two Diet Cokes he said he drank at the bar.

Lanzillo, who said his surveillance actions were entirely legal and denied being familiar with Righeimer before following him and calling police.

Righeimer has contended he was set up by organized labor because of his efforts to reduce what he deems overly generous city employee compensation and retirement packages. Labor representatives have denied any advance knowledge of, or responsibility for, Lanzillo's actions.

The Orange County Register first reported that the private investigator said a woman had been sent into the bar to flirt with Monahan, who is married.

In Lanzillo's account of events, the woman, whom he said was not paid for her efforts, sat at a table at the bar in Skosh Monahan's Steakhouse & Irish Pub, which the councilman owns, smiled at Monahan and then interacted with him as he poured whiskey.

Due to an ongoing district attorney investigation into the incident, Monahan said he has been asked by prosecutors not to comment on the case.

"I've pretty much been advised by the D.A. not to say anything, not to get involved," Monahan said in a phone message left for a Pilot reporter Friday. "It is what it is, and the D.A. is investigating what happened on that particular day. That's pretty much the best I can do for you until they get finished."

Righeimer was at the bar that night and he said the woman in question can be seen on surveillance video entering the bar behind him. That video is now under the district attorney's control and could not be reviewed by the Daily Pilot.

Righeimer said he didn't remember any of Monahan's interactions with the woman. "To say I saw her would actually be a stretch," he said. "Gary's is an open restaurant. She was at this table right next to the bar. [Monahan] was going back and forth, his daughter got us Diet Cokes."

However, another person with knowledge of the investigation who requested anonymity told the Daily Pilot that Monahan ignored the woman's overtures and kept working.

Righeimer condemned Lanzillo's actions, saying, "I think our people and people in this country should be disturbed by the cavalier attitude of a P.I. that was hired by our police association." He alleged that such tactics are designed to "destroy people's lives and families."

The head of the police union, Jason Chamness, was out of town Friday and could not be reached for comment. In past interviews, however, he has said his organization did not retain Lanzillo and had no prior awareness of the alleged DUI setup.

The Costa Mesa Police Officers Assn. previously retained a law firm for which Lanzillo worked — Lackie, Dammeier McGill & Ethir — but fired the firm shortly after Lanzillo called 911 about Righeimer.

In addition to the POA, the Orange County Employees Assn., which represents city employees, also denied any involvement.


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Photo: Councilman Jim Righeimer. Credit: Daily Pilot