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HomelawsuitsBattle over police pensions in US cities takes ugly turn

Battle over police pensions in US cities takes ugly turn

A drive by some American cities to cut costly police retirement benefits has led to an extraordinary face-off between local politicians and the law enforcement officers who work for them.

In Costa Mesa, Calif., lawmaker Jim Righeimer says he was a target of intimidation because he sought to curb police pensions. In a lawsuit in November, Righeimer accused the Costa Mesa police union and a law firm that once represented them, of forcing him to undergo a sobriety test (he passed) after driving home from a bar in August 2012.

That followed a call to 911 by private detective Chris Lanzillo, who worked for the police union and the law firm that represented it, according to the suit. Lanzillo is also named as a defendant, accused of following Righeimer home from the bar.

(Read more: Donors put up $330 million for Detroit pensions, art)

Disputes such as these have intensified as Detroit and two California cities, Stockton and San Bernardino, have gone bankrupt in the past two years. Police pension costs were a major factor in the financial troubles facing all three. Now large cities, including San Jose and San Diego, say they have no choice but to alter pension agreements lest they end up in bankruptcy too.

The suit by lawmaker Righeimer also said that an FBI raid of the law firm last October uncovered evidence that an electronic tracking device had been attached to the underside of the car driven by another lawmaker, Steve Mensinger, one of Righeimer's allies in the pension fight.

"What we are alleging is a conspiracy to gather information against political opponents'',said John Manly, a lawyer representing Righeimer and Mensinger.

(Read more: US lawmakers unveil $1.1 trillion spending bill

Calls to Lanzillo's lawyers went unanswered. Lanzillo is not listed in any public directory.

The FBI confirmed that some of its agents were present at the raid, but referred all other questions to the Orange County district attorney, which applied for the search warrant. Robert Mestman, senior deputy district attorney, said: "I cannot comment. It is a pending investigation."

The police union, the Costa Mesa Police Association, denies any knowledge of the purported tactics. It fired the law firm, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, after allegations of the harassment first surfaced. Several calls to the lawyer representing the firm, which is in the process of being wound down, went unanswered.

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