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Portrait of 911 caller emerges

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The private investigator who followed Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer home from a sports bar and called 911 to report him for drunk driving is a Marine veteran, a divorced father and a former police officer who spearheaded a program aimed at helping underage prostitutes, according to public records.

Chris Lanzillo, 42, could not be reached for comment Monday, but aspects of his life can be drawn from court and newspaper accounts from the Inland Empire, where he is believed to reside, as well from military records and on Facebook.

As an officer, Lanzillo spearheaded the Riverside Police Department's "Innocence Lost" task force, according to court documents. The program worked with minors who turned to sex work.

But Lanzillo's time in Riverside did not end well.

He sued the city and Police Department on May 6, 2010, for demoting him, according to a complaint from the U.S. Central District court in Riverside. A few months later, he sued for his being fired.

The city eventually settled with Lanzillo and granted him a medical retirement, although the area's newspaper, the Press-Enterprise, reported that the police chief said Lanzillo was not terminated because of his involvement with the police union, as Lanzillo had claimed.

Lanzillo was fired "not because he was a member of the leadership of the [police union], but because he did some really bad things," Police Chief Sergio Diaz told the newspaper in 2010.

The alleged "bad things" were not detailed in the report.

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Law firm ties

Lanzillo was represented by Lackie, Dammeier, McGill in his federal lawsuit. It is the same Upland law firm that, until recently, represented the Costa Mesa Police Assn. (CMPA) and is used by the Newport Beach Police Management Assn.

The relationship between the firm and Lanzillo, however, continued beyond his lawsuit.

The firm, which specializes in representing police unions, used Lanzillo as an investigator, but a named partner in the firm told the Daily Pilot that it did not ask Lanzillo to surveil Righeimer and report him for a DUI.

The councilman had been drinking Diet Coke at Councilman Gary Monahan's bar, Skosh Monahan's, on Wednesday night. After police got word that he was allegedly drunk driving, he was given a brief sobriety test, which he quickly passed, not long after arriving home from the sports bar.

Righeimer later called the entire incident "a setup."

Before the officer knocked on his door that night, Righeimer criticized Lackie, Dammeier & McGill during a council meeting the night prior. Righeimer pointed out a page on the firm's website outlining aggressive negotiating tactics for police associations to use against politicians.

The CMPA terminated its agreement with the firm Friday, saying its tactics were too aggressive.

The association has denied any involvement in the call Lanzillo made to 911.

"The CMPA had no knowledge or participation surrounding this incident," CMPA President Jason Chamness said in a statement.

Lanzillo was listed on the law firm's website but was recently removed. He is still on the firm's Facebook page.

Costa Mesa Police Chief Tom Gazsi on Friday called for a full investigation into the 911 call.

Lt. Tim Schennum said Monday that the investigation is continuing and would not say if and when charges might be filed.

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Military career

Lanzillo served as artillery corporal between 1988 and 1996, according to Marine Corps records.

Information on where Lanzillo served and whether he was honorably discharged were unavailable, though public records indicate he was assigned to Camp Pendleton at one point. It was unclear whether he served in Desert Storm or other major conflicts that took place during his years of service.

His current address could not be gleaned from public records, but his private investigations business, Big Giants Investigations, is registered in the Riverside County city of Menifee.

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Firearm permit

Lanzillo's state guard license and firearm permit, which allows him to carry a gun, are valid through July 2013.

A Facebook page for a man named Christopher Lanzillo lists him as a retired private investigator who served in the Marines after graduating from Richmond Hill High School in Queens, New York.

According to an Aug. 14 Facebook announcement posted on the profile of Christopher Lanzillo's wife, who married him Oct. 18, 2011, they are expecting a son.

Previously, Lanzillo was married for 18 years to another woman, with whom he had two sons and a daughter, according to Riverside County Superior Court records.

In July 2010, Lanzillo and his then-wife were sued by the Bourns Employees Federal Credit Union for failing to make payments on a December 2008 loan, records show. They owed the Riverside bank $36,335, plus interest.

On Sept. 21, 2010, the Lanzillos filed for bankruptcy. In 2010, the couple legally separated, court documents show.

lauren.williams@latimes.com; joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30 and @josephserna

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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