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Former LAPD Golden Boy Tarnished by Holdup Arrest : Police: Mike Brambles' admirers--and enemies--are shocked by the charges against him in nine robberies.

July 24, 1994|PAUL LIEBERMAN and SHAWN HUBLER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Elizabeth Adams, the notorious Beverly Hills madam, swore to the end that he was "one of the most honorable, decent cops I have ever met," and she had met--and tested--a lot of cops.

No less than former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates called him "one of the smartest . . . most innovative detectives I've ever known . . . exactly what you'd want in a detective."

Mike Brambles was, indeed, a golden boy of the LAPD--the highest-profile organized-crime fighter on the force, a man wondrously articulate yet willing to spend hours on the street to pursue some of the sexiest cases the city had to offer, from ZZZZ Best to the madam herself.

So why did so many blood feuds accompany his rise up the ranks?

Why did some fellow detectives talk of punching him out? Why did prosecutors become wary of him? And why did one former prosecutor, Ed Consiglio--the one he turned into a Mafia suspect--announce to anyone within earshot, for years, that he wouldn't mind seeing "that idiot" dead?

Of course, almost everyone dismissed Consiglio as a vindictive malcontent, just as they dismissed the mob boys who screamed for years that Brambles fabricated tantalizing evidence.

So Brambles moved on to new investigations and finally, in March, retirement from the LAPD with a $30,000 pension and visions of plum security jobs in Las Vegas.

It was there that he was arrested this month on a Los Angeles warrant charging him with nine armed robberies, mostly of restaurants, along with a dry cleaners and a bicycle shop. Brambles, 45, was extradited to Los Angeles, where he pleaded not guilty Thursday and was ordered held in lieu of $200,000 bail.

The events shocked his admirers and enemies alike, prompting both to look back, with new eyes, at a career that roller coastered like none other in the recent history of the LAPD. Love him or hate him, there was one thing that neither group could reconcile: the nature of the crimes that could earn Brambles 30 years in prison if he is convicted.

"He's the kind of guy who--well, Ft. Knox, he might break into," former partner Tom Convey said. "But not a little chump robbery, where you walk in with no mask and say, 'Hey, mister bike shop owner, gimme your day's receipts.'

"If Mike was gonna do a crime," said Convey, one of Brambles' admirers, "he would do a crime that would be a one-time thing and be gone with multiple millions."

Even Consiglio was caught off-guard by the allegation that his adversary had become a stickup man. "I didn't think he had the guts," the former prosecutor said.

And Gates? "Mike Brambles," he said, "is probably the most baffling person I have ever known."

Meeting the Madam

Brambles exemplified the LAPD's mind-body ideal. A UCLA graduate with a major in geography, of all things, he had a wiry build kept fit by surfing--he would often hit the waves before the office. And despite military-neat brown hair, he was no Joe Friday square; he preferred jeans and tennis shoes to a coat and tie.

Brambles began his LAPD career "like anybody else," he once recalled--in uniform, on patrol. Soon, though, he was recruited into narcotics duty in Hollywood, spent 2 1/2 years in vice and was named to the Sexually Exploited Child Unit.

He had not been in it long when he met Adams. The occasion was singer Don Henley's 1980 arrest for contributing to the delinquency of a minor after paramedics called to his home found a nude 16-year-old girl who had overdosed on drugs. Looking for leads on the girl, who was a runaway, Brambles visited Elizabeth Adams' house above Sunset Strip.

The door was answered by a short woman in a smock whose hair was so thin she nearly looked bald--hardly the embodiment of a top-end madam. When she said, "No sabe, " Brambles left. Then the woman did too, going into hiding.

For years--after he tracked her down--Adams would laugh about the ruse that was the unlikely start of their relationship. In the parlance of the cop shop, he became her "handler."

To be sure, she knew other cops--they even came occasionally to bust her. But this one, she said, was particularly "cute . . . nice . . . and unbribable."

Like any veteran of the vice trades, Adams learned that a key to survival was keeping the law happy. "I'd say, 'Look guys, your pensions are all you have going for you so I won't tempt you. . . . But when you retire. . . ."

Brambles "never wanted anything," she said. "Not (women), not money, not nothing."

Much later, Internal Affairs would poke around in vain for something crooked in their relationship; if not money, perhaps antiques from the store she used as a front.

No, she insisted, the relationship was based on the other commodity those in vice trades peddle to keep the law at bay--information.

Brambles said she passed extremely reliable leads on porn rings, drug dealers and even terrorists--including one plotting to bomb the British Parliament.

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