L.A. Now

Private eye takes the 5th more than 200 times in fake-DUI case

A private detective accused of tailing an Orange County mayor and then calling in a false drunk-driving report took the 5th more than 200 times during a deposition in a lawsuit filed against the private eye, a law firm that employed him and a local police union.

Chris Lanzillo, a Riverside private detective, is accused in the lawsuit of following Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer after he left a tavern in the summer of 2012 and then called 911 to report that the mayor was driving erratically and appeared to be drunk. When police arrived, they determined that the mayor was not intoxicated.

Lanzillo had worked for a law firm that represented the Costa Mesa Police Assn., which at the time had a strained relationship with Righeimer and other members of the City Council. Questions have persisted over why the private detective was following the mayor.

Under oath Thursday, Lanzillo repeatedly exercised his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination during a three-hour deposition.

"It is very disturbing when any organization associated with law enforcement refuses to answer questions under oath on the grounds that the answers may incriminate them," said John Manly, the attorney representing Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger in the lawsuit. Mensinger claims a GPS device was put on his car when he was competing in the city elections.

The private detective’s attorney had a different take, however.

"The 5th Amendment is available to both the innocent and the guilty," said attorney Jerry Abeles. "And no adverse conclusion can be drawn from the assertion of the privilege."

The law firm that had employed the private detective, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, was fired by the Costa Mesa police union shortly after the DUI report and has denied any prior knowledge of the incident.

The law firm has been accused of bullying city leaders throughout Southern California in its aggressive representation of police associations. The firm announced last fall that it was dissolving.

The firm’s Upland law offices were raided by Orange County district attorney’s investigators in October. Investigators also obtained a search warrant in 2012 for Lanzillo’s Sun City home.


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Times Community News editor John Canalis contributed to this report.

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