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Welcome to the LSIS Investigative Journal

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Private Investigator falsely accused Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer of driving drunk linked to union law firm

Published: Aug. 25, 2012 Updated: 7:17 p.m.

Righeimer accuser linked to union law firm



COSTA MESA - The mystery caller who falsely accused Costa Mesa Councilman
Jim Righeimer of driving drunk is a private investigator linked to a law
firm that worked for the Costa Mesa Police Association.

Dispatch tapes obtained by The Orange County Register identified the caller
as Chris Lanzillo. Lanzillo is a fired Riverside police officer who
according to a published report got a medical retirement and became a
private investigator. Lanzillo worked sometimes for the Upland law firm of
Lackie, Dammeier & McGill, which until late last week represented the Costa
Mesa police union.

The union and city are tied up in contract negotiations.

At a news conference Friday, Righeimer blamed employee unions for the "911"
call that sent an officer to his home to conduct a sobriety test. Righeimer
had just arrived from a local bar, where he had two Diet Cokes. He passed
the test, and now wants the District Attorney's Office to look into the
incident, noting a similar event in Buena Park in 2010.

In that case, Councilman Fred Smith said his city's Police Department tried
to set him up for a DUI arrest because of decisions he made on the dais that
were unpopular with many officers. Smith was found to be sober; police
officials at the time brushed aside Smith's accusations, saying the officer
in question did not know who he was pulling over.

Righeimer said he doesn't know Lanzillo personally, but wasn't surprised to
learn about his connection to the law firm. The councilman said he believes
he had been followed for some time, and that the bar's security cameras show
Lanzillo's car following Righeimer's vehicle.

"What these organizations are doing is trying to get personal dirt on
elected officials so that they'll vote against the interest of cities or
counties to protect themselves," Righeimer said. "That's what makes this so
horrendously wrong. ...It's against the whole American system."

Minutes before the news conference, the police union notified the Register
that it had fired Lackie Dammeier for being too aggressive. One of the
tactics previously touted by the firm was to target a city or county
official until he fell into line - and then go after another "victim."

Lanzillo could not be reached, but attorney Dieter Dammeier confirmed he did
some work for the law firm. Dammeier denied any connection with the
Righeimer incident.

"I assure you, he was not employed or authorized to surveil (or do anything
else to) Mr. Righeimer by this firm," Dammeier wrote in an email.

Dammeier also said he understood Costa Mesa's desire to "go in another

"While our firm does have a reputation of being aggressive, we have learned
to acclimate to the various clients we represent. Given the hyper
anti-public employee nature of the council in Costa Mesa, it is
understandable that any employee group there will have to go to great
lengths to accommodate them," he wrote.

Dammeier added: "The reason we represent most of the POAs in L.A., Orange,
Riverside and San Bernardino counties is because police officers like and on
occasion require aggressive representation."

For more on Lackie, Dammeier & McGill, see today's watchdog column in the
Local section.

The "911" tape paints a picture of an out-of-control driver, staggering to
the car, swerving, rolling through a stop sign.

The caller told police: "I think he's DUI. ... He's just swerving all over
the road. ... I don't know what's wrong with him."

The caller went on to say that he could be wrong, "but why take a chance?"

Then the caller says he doesn't want to get involved.

"When I pulled into a location, I saw him coming out. I was meeting a friend
over at some location, I can't remember the name of it now and I saw him
like stumbling out of this location," the caller said. "I don't know, maybe
he's disabled."

Then the caller accuses Righeimer of rolling through a stop sign.

He then followed Righeimer home and pointed out the house to the arriving

"The officer made contact with the driver, identified as City Council member
Jim Righeimer, and determined that Mr. Righeimer had not been drinking and
was not under the influence," according to a police statement.

Righeimer said he was asked to follow a pen with his eyes and did not have
to take further field tests. He dismissed the idea he could have been
driving recklessly.

"From day one, when I was given the test," the councilman said, "right then
I realized this was a set-up, I knew immediately it was the labor unions."

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