AS A CHILD, he would dream the same dream over and over, until the dreadful image would tease the backs of his eyelids even by day: He and his father are walking along a road in the early evening darkness when, out of nowhere, a pair of headlights pierces the horizon. The two points of light grow monstrously large; the dull whine of an engine becomes a roar. The boy jumps in front of the father and, with the pounding cylinders only inches away, grabs the car's bumper and heaves the entire machine to the side of the road. The father sighs quietly. The boy stands trembling. And, in the distance, two more headlights appear.
"It was all in the wrists. Timing," explains Anthony P. Brooklier, who at 43 is now one of Los Angeles' most successful criminal lawyers and supposedly immune from childhood bogymen. But the image he has come to call simply "the dream" keeps nudging back at odd hours, perhaps because it has become a leitmotif for much of his life.
He is the Godfather's son. He is the boy from suburban Anaheim who grew up the son of Dominic Brooklier, onetime powerful boss of La Cosa Nostra in Los Angeles. He is the high school football star who played catch in the back yard with Aladena (Jimmy the Weasel) Fratianno, a Mafia hit man who has confessed to at least five contract murders. Brooklier is the young lawyer who left his job as a deputy state attorney general to defend his father against serious criminal charges, only--unlike the boy in the dream who fended off the onrushing car--to watch the aging Mafia don die in prison.
There is probably no one in the Los Angeles legal community who has quite the mystique of Tony Brooklier, a tall, perfectly coiffed Italian-American who has somehow managed to straddle the gap between a modern, successful criminal defense practice and the remnants of an underworld heritage that is centuries old.
The mystique has to do with more than the Hugo Boss pinstripe suits, more than the front table at Giuseppe that he frequents with Hollywood and reputed underworld luminaries, more than the quick, evasive joke that is elicited whenever anyone asks him about the family business. ("If I told you, I'd have to kill you," he once muttered to an inquiring reporter.) Through it all, there is the nagging sense that the consigliere image is cheerfully cultivated, artfully crafted--and, like most successful illusions, rooted somewhere in fact.
Brooklier, a partner in the small Beverly Hills law firm of Marks & Brooklier, has built a respected practice, one that ranges beyond organized crime, defending accused white-collar criminals, cocaine barons, corrupt public officials, stock swindlers, even former law-enforcement agents. But Brooklier--along with his longtime law partner Donald B. Marks--is unquestionably the man the Los Angeles mob calls first when there's trouble with the law. Brooklier has handled at least a part of virtually every case brought to federal court by the Los Angeles Strike Force on Organized Crime in the past 10 years.
It was Brooklier who, in a 1987 stolen-securities case, won an acquittal for Michael Rizzitello, described in numerous court documents and government reports as one of the most powerful organized-crime figures in Southern California today. It was Brooklier who got Robert (Fat Bobby) Paduano, whom state attorney general's reports describe as a Mafia associate, acquitted of stock-swindling charges in 1986. And it was Brooklier who helped lead the plea negotiations last year that led to unexpectedly lenient sentences for most of the Peter J. Milano crime family.
Now, in one of the most important organized-crime cases to go to trial here in several years, Brooklier will defend Rizzitello in Orange County Superior Court on charges that Rizzitello fired three bullets into the head of Santa Ana nightclub owner Bill Carroll, who had allegedly been resisting the mob's attempt to muscle in on club revenues. (The trial was scheduled to begin tomorrow.)
"This is for not letting us eat," Rizzitello is alleged to have snarled as he fired the gun from the back seat of a car one night in 1987 while the driver, co-defendant Joey Grosso, allegedly held Carroll down.
The nightclub owner was permanently blinded but survived. For 18 months, he refused to say who had shot him and why, but finally, when prosecutors agreed to dismiss unrelated fraud charges against him, Carroll identified Rizzitello and Grosso as his attackers. Brooklier says he expects to prove that law-enforcement officials, desperate to get Rizzitello behind bars, put Carroll up to fingering the longtime reputed Mafia figure. He also says he'll suggest who did shoot Carroll, and why Carroll was too confused--or afraid--to identify his real attacker.