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P.I. says he worked with woman to test Monahan

Police chief says his officers are collaborating with D.A. on investigation.

November 09, 2012|By Lauren Williams and Jill Cowan

A private investigator hired to tail Costa Mesa Councilmen Gary Monahan and Steve Mensinger said he was sent to Monahan's sports bar with a woman to see whether Monahan would behave inappropriately.

Chris Lanzillo, a Menifee investigator and former police officer, told the Daily Pilot that he went to Monahan's bar on Aug. 22 on behalf of a client he would not name to gather dirt on Monahan and Mensinger, who were running for City Council.

Lanzillo, who said his surveillance actions were entirely legal, denied being familiar with Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer before following him home and reporting him as a possible drunk driver. Police cleared Righeimer of driving drunk, and the councilman produced a receipt for two Diet Cokes.

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Righeimer has contended he was set up by organized labor because of his efforts to reduce what he deems overly generous city employee compensation and retirement packages. Labor representatives have denied any advance knowledge of, or responsibility for, Lanzillo's actions.

In Lanzillo's account of events, the woman, whom he said was not paid for her efforts to flirt with Monahan, sat at a table at the bar in Skosh Monahan's Steakhouse and Irish Pub, which the councilman owns, smiled at Monahan, and then interacted with him as he poured whiskey.

Due to the ongoing investigation into Lanzillo, Monahan said he has been asked by prosecutors not to comment on the alleged setup.

"I've pretty much been advised by the D.A. not to say anything, not to get involved," Monahan said in a phone message left for a Pilot reporter Friday. "It is what it is, and the D.A. is investigating what happened on that particular day. That's pretty much the best I can do for you until they get finished [with the investigation]."

Righeimer was at the bar that night and he said the woman in question can be seen on surveillance video entering the bar behind him. That video is now under the district attorney's control and could not be reviewed by the Daily Pilot. Righeimer didn't remember any of Monahan's interactions with the woman.

"To say I saw her would actually be a stretch," he said. "Gary's is an open restaurant. She was at this table right next to the bar. [Monahan] was going back and forth, his daughter got us Diet Cokes."

However, another person with knowledge of the investigation who requested anonymity told the Daily Pilot that Monahan ignored the woman's overtures and kept working. Monahan is married.

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