[UPDATED with Caller a Police Union Stooge?:] Jim Righeimer, Costa Mesa Councilman, Cop Critic and Pension Cutter, Alleges DUI "Set Up"
See Update No. 2 at the end of this post on media reports the false DUI caller is a Costa Mesa police union stooge.
See Update No. 1 on a new Costa Mesa Police Department statement claiming the agency is super serious about investigating the false DUI report.
ORIGINAL POST, AUG. 24, 2:25 P.M.: Costa Mesa Police say a call came in around 6 p.m. Wednesday from a motorist who said he was behind a possibly intoxicated driver. Cops say they got a description of the car that was followed to a Costa Mesa home. Cops say an officer met the caller in front of what turned out to be the residence of City Councilman Jim Righeimer, who the motorist promptly fingered as the suspected tipsy driver.
But, this story has a big "but" . . .
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The big but will be even more dramatic once we put it in full context.
Righeimer, a conservative activist, protege of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and employee of Republican sugar daddy developer George Argyros, used to write local columns for the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot. He once called me with a tip about a little-known bonus paid to Costa Mesa cops--actually, all cops in California. It was a topic Righeimer said was too hot for the Pilot (and apparently Navel Gazing, because I never did anything with it).
Riggy ran for Costa Mesa City Council in 2008, a year after the city started pulling funds out of its reserves to pay bills. During the same election that saw Barack Obama win the presidency, Righeimer finished fourth, just behind another candidate who advocated reigning in spending, Eric Bever. Unfortunately for Righeimer, only three seats were open that year.
Despite the city's financial juggling act, a council majority that did not include Bever but did count among its number conservative, anti-immigrant stalwart Wendy Leece later voted for a more lucrative contract for firemen and an increase for their retirements, something known as the 3% at 50 pension plan.
At a time when more money was leaving Costa Mesa's budget than coming in to the city of 110,000, the country's financial crisis lingered and other cities began declaring bankruptcy trying to pay their own six-figure pensions to retired government employees, including cops and firemen.
Well, Costa Mesa Republicans were livid, with resident and former county treasurer-turned-Board of Supervisors chairman John Moorlach angrily calling out Leece as a traitor. For his part, Righeimer campaigned on the issue in the 2010 council election, pointing out pension costs had more than doubled to $15 million in a decade, that a deputy fire chief retired with an $182,000 annual lifetime pension and that the police chief was pulling down nearly $300,000 in total compensation yearly.
A city planning commissioner at the time, Righeimer seemed to take particular delight in calling out the abuses of Costa Mesa cops. Driving through a DUI checkpoint on Harbor Boulevard next to the 405 Freeway, Righeimer later got out of his car, walked over to a supervisor and complained thee operation could cause a traffic hazard. Police later claimed he whipped out a city badge and demanded the checkpoint be shut down, something Righeimer denied.
During that race, the Costa Mesa's fire and police unions trucked a sign around town demanding that residents vote against Righeimer who, if elected, could join a new council majority critical of higher pensions and over-spending. There was so much type on the sign I think they even had Righeimer's kindergarten report card on there.
Things got nastier a month before Election Day when Bever and longtime Costa Mesa resident Christian Eric were putting up Righeimer campaign signs when they say they got the stink eye from cops in a slowly passing Costa Mesa unit. Moorlach and attorney Mark Bucher, who previously formed a political action committee with Righeimer aimed at helping more conservatives win elections, demanded an investigation.
Local public employees spent more than $100,000 opposing Righeimer, with six unions from neighboring regions spending another $33,000 endorsing his opponents. But Righeimer's message resonated with voters, who were just then learning lifeguards in neighboring Newport Beach and down coast in Laguna Beach were retiring with lifetime annual pensions well over $100,000, exceeding even many what Costa Mesa couples were together bringing home each year. Righeimer wound up being the top vote-getter in the 2010 City Council election, something he considered a voter mandate.
The police chief and longtime city manager retired during a Righeimer reign that has included pink slipping half of the city's 472 workers, trying to privatize many of their jobs and making labor negotiations more public.
Among the most controversial moves is a proposal to turn Costa Mesa into a charter city, which would make it easier for the council to lower wages for city workers and privatize even more jobs. Unions were emboldened by appellate court justices recently siding with a lower court ruling favoring their lawsuit to halt Costa Mesa officials from outsourcing city jobs to private companies until there's a trial on the issue.
Given the toxic atmosphere around City Hall, from where a city worker famously leaped to his death the day pink slips first went out, you do not shake your head in disbelief when Righeimer claims a Costa Mesa Police raced toward his house Wednesday evening. His allegation to City News Service of being "set up" is not beyond the realm of possibility. You almost wonder if a photographer had been tipped to be in the bushes across the street to snap a shot of Righeimer being administered a field sobriety test on his front porch.
The cop concluded Righeimer had not been drinking, but Righeimer and his wife have concluded someone was out to get the councilman. They claim when the Mrs. confronted the man who had made the report and was still parked in a white Kia with no license plates outside their home, he grumbled something and almost drove over her toe speeding away.
All the usual suspects who support Righeimer's pension crusade--as well as those who just follow Costa Mesa like its a clown college--picked up the story, and a day after those the Costa Mesa Police Department felt compelled to send the media this short summation claiming a false-report investigation is under way:
On Wednesday evening, August 22, at approximately 6:00 p.m., a motorist called the Costa Mesa Police Department to report that he was following a possibly intoxicated driver. The caller provided a description of the vehicle and followed it to a residence. An officer arrived and made contact with motorist who pointed out the residence of the driver of the vehicle. 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. The Police Department is currently looking into the initial information received to ensure its validity.
Don't be surprised if the cop leading that investigation retires before it's completed--if he's not pink slipped first.
UPDATE NO. 1, AUG. 27, 9:12 A.M.: Lt. Tim Schennum sent the message at the bottom indicating the Costa Mesa Police Department is super serious about the call and caller who led officers to suspect Jim Righeimer was boozy behind the wheel.
In our dreams, the man who followed the city councilman looks like this:
UPDATE TO PREVIOUS RELEASE.
No additional information available at this time.
Following an incident reported to the Costa Mesa Police Department on Wednesday, regarding the alleged driving violations of Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, an investigation was initiated by the Professional Standards Bureau and the Investigative Bureau, at the direction of Chief Tom Gazsi. The source of the call and the alleged report of inappropriate driving is under investigation. Although the caller suggested the Mayor Pro Tem may have been driving impaired, the responding officer confirmed that Mr. Righeimer was not under the influence. A vigorous investigation continues concerning the motive and nature of the call. The Department anticipates a future review of this matter by the Orange County District Attorney's Office.
UPDATE NO. 2, AUG. 27, 9:35 A.M.: The Orange County Register reports it has identified the mystery caller:
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 city and Costa Mesa Police Association is currently embroiled in contract negotiations.
Righeimer, who is calling for an Orange County District Attorney's office investigation, said Friday he was followed from a bar where he downed two drinks: Diet Cokes.
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