A man who made a 911 call accusing Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer of driving drunk is believed to be a former Riverside police officer.
The caller identified himself to a police dispatcher as Chris Lanzillo, according to a tape of the call obtained by the Daily Pilot on Friday afternoon using the state public records act.
Sources with knowledge of the investigation confirmed that Lanzillo is a former police officer turned private investigator and that he is believed to be the person who reported Righeimer's driving.
Lanzillo could not be reached for comment, but a Riverside Press-Enterprise article from October 2010 said he was fired from the force and sued for alleged discrimination before being reinstated and allowed to take a medical retirement.
"In the claims, Lanzillo alleged that because of his union activities and comments he made — including some critical of an assistant chief — he was transferred to an undesirable assignment, passed over for advancement and investigated by internal affairs," according to the article, which also said the city's police chief denied the allegations.
Righeimer has clashed with labor, initiating a plan to lay off city workers and possibly replace them with private sector employees. On Friday, he held a press conference accusing organized labor of being responsible for the emergency call.
On the Costa Mesa 911 tape, a caller believed to be Lanzillo calls police dispatch to report a possible drunk driver. He said he saw the driver, but doesn't name Righeimer, stumbling out of a sports bar before getting in his SUV, speeding and "swerving all over the road."
In the recording, the dispatcher advised the man reporting the call that he did not need to follow Righeimer as he drove home.
"You don't have to follow the vehicle if you don't have to," the dispatcher said.
"I'm just behind this fella," Lanzillo said. "I'll stay behind him a while more."
The caller, who told the dispatcher he was not from Costa Mesa, continued to name streets as he tailed the councilman in a white Kia.
The man said Righeimer drove 50 mph down a residential street and ran a stop sign.
"It's just … he's not staying inside his lanes," the man reported to a dispatcher. "I saw him like stumbling out of the location. Maybe he's disabled, I don't know."
The man refers to himself and someone else in the car in the dispatch call, and another voice can be heard in the recording.
Police Chief Tom Gazsi said that his department is investigating the call and working to determine whether a crime took place.
In a Friday press conference, Righeimer accused local employee associations of being behind the call that led to an officer giving him a field sobriety test outside of his home.
Righeimer was sober, police said in a statement.
"This has gone way over the line," Righeimer said outside of City Hall. "I understand that pensions are a tense issue, that pay is a tense issue. I understand that some people may disagree, but when what looks like someone is paid to follow me around town and set me up for a DUI in front of my kids and my house, it's crossing the line."
Representatives from the Costa Mesa Police Officers Assn. said it had no knowledge of the call and did not work with Lanzillo.
Righeimer, who has proposed outsourcing public employee jobs to the private sector, did not offer evidence as to why he thought union members or sympathizers were behind the call, nor did he specify which union — employees are represented by various organizations — he thought was involved.
Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn., said Righeimer was unjustified in pointing the finger at unions.
"It's absolutely not credible," Muir said. "He has no reason to say this except to make a political point."
"We're absolutely not involved, and I think that Mr. Righeimer is making baseless accusations and holding a press conference," she continued. "It's embarrassing to the city."
Righeimer, however, tied the incident to comments he made the night before at a City Council meeting, where he criticized Orange County police unions for using a law firm that outlined on its website some election-year tactics they can use against politicians.
Costa Mesa Police Officer Assn. President Jason Chamness said in an email that his association cut ties with the firm because it was working toward a less aggressive approach to negotiations with the city.
"Public trust must be first and foremost between the police and the community we serve," Chamenss said. "We have no intentions of allowing the police association's relationship with the public to erode … We must provide the best service possible to the citizens of Costa Mesa, and we feel this decision serves both the association and the community equally."
Night of the call
According to police, an informant called 911 at about 6 p.m. Wednesday and followed a driver who was possibly drunk. The caller followed the driver, later identified as Righeimer, from Skosh Monahan's at 2000 Newport Blvd. to Righeimer's home in Mesa Verde. He also pointed out the politician's house to a responding officer.
The officer went to Righeimer's door and asked him to step outside, where he gave him a brief field sobriety test.
The caller, who apparently stayed in his car to watch the events unfold, was confronted by Righeimer's wife, Lene. She said she stepped in front of the vehicle. The caller, whom she described as a white man in his 40s with blondish hair and a goatee, rolled down his driver's side window.
"He says, 'Are you standing in front of my car for a reason?'" Lene said. "I said, 'Yeah, I'd like to know who you are.' He gave me a mean frown, and he made a sharp turn to avoid hitting me and proceeded to leave …You know, if you were really a concerned citizen, you would have taken the time to converse with me about your concerns."
She said the car was a newer model Kia without license plates. However, the car had a license plate frame from a dealership in Riverside County.
A source familiar with the case confirmed the person who made the call is not from Costa Mesa or anywhere else in Orange County.
Police are now investigating the nature of the call.
"I have every confidence in Chief [Tom] Gazsi," Righeimer said. "I have full faith in him that they're going after this person who made this false allegation."
At the press conference, Righeimer showed his receipt from Skosh Monahan's — $6 for two Diet Cokes. The bar is owned by Councilman Gary Monahan, who has sided with Righeimer on council issues.
"This was not a coincidence, this was not a mistake," Righeimer said. "This was a setup beyond all setups to try to do it, to say, 'We got him on something. We're going to embarrass him.'"