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Ex-LAPD Detective Gets 102 Years in Crime Spree

Courts: Judge says the onetime member of elite LAPD unit showed no remorse for series of robberies and rapes.

September 21, 1996|ALAN ABRAHAMSON and PAUL LIEBERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LOS ANGELES — Former Police Det. Michael D. Brambles, once a star investigator for the Los Angeles Police Department's organized crime division, was sentenced Friday to 102 years in state prison for a 1994 rampage of stickups and sexual assaults.

The 47-year-old Brambles has shown "no remorse whatsoever," Superior Court Judge John W. Ouderkirk said in imposing the sentence.

A former Santa Monica police officer, Ouderkirk also noted the "terrible pain" officers routinely see when encountering victims of sexual assault. "That experience and knowledge makes his crimes against his victims all the more despicable and him all the more blameworthy," the judge said.

Ouderkirk added that he hoped the public "does not judge the dedicated and brave officers of the LAPD by the actions of this one rogue individual."

As the judge spoke, Brambles twiddled with a pencil and stroked his goatee. He looked straight ahead and showed no emotion.

Brambles was found guilty July 11 of 26 felony counts stemming from a four-month string of robberies in which a lone gunman entered restaurants, shops and dry cleaners around Los Angeles--many along the Ventura Boulevard corridor of the San Fernando Valley--to clear out their cash registers at closing time, twice sexually assaulting female clerks.

The robberies began while Brambles was still a member of the LAPD, though on medical leave, and continued after he retired and began shuttling back and forth between Los Angeles and his Las Vegas home.

His monthlong trial featured DNA evidence linking him to one of the rapes and a parade of robbery victims who pointed to the slender, dark-haired defendant as their assailant.

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Robbery victim Michelle Weller, 31, said Friday in court that she remains terrified. "When I walk down the street, I'm afraid someone's going to point a gun at me," she said, urging Ouderkirk to impose a lengthy sentence.

To the end, Brambles swore he was the victim of a "tragic misidentification" while hinting of a conspiracy against him because of a stormy 23-year career. During that time he gained renown for high-profile investigations but also made a slew of enemies--from mob figures who accused him of fabricating evidence to fellow law enforcement officials who described him as a glory-seeking loose cannon.

Taking the stand in his own defense in July, Brambles told how he clashed with top vice detectives while he served as the LAPD's chief "handler" for the late "Beverly Hills Madam," Elizabeth Adams. After Adams was arrested by the vice squad, Brambles testified in her defense that she had been promised immunity from prosecution for forwarding sensitive "pillow-talk" intelligence picked up by her pricey call girls.

In the probation report, which was unsealed Friday, Brambles again professed his innocence. But he did confide that he "wonders if he was under so much stress that he lost his mind, committed the crime and then did not remember it."

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Indeed, at the start of the hearing Friday, defense lawyer Anthony Brooklier asked Ouderkirk to postpone sentencing so Brambles could take a battery of psychological tests.

Ouderkirk, however, summarily rejected that request, saying Brambles was clearly an "intellectual and practical man who has shown no remorse whatsoever."

An articulate physical fitness buff who often went surfing before work, Brambles quickly rose from the patrol to detective ranks in the LAPD, eventually becoming a supervisor in the elite Organized Crime Intelligence Division.

In 1987, he headed a team of detectives probing the collapse of the ZZZZ Best carpet cleaning company, run by Barry Minkow, and later represented the department at congressional hearings on stock fraud--and mob involvement--in the Reseda-based firm.

But the ZZZZ Best investigation also earned Brambles his most enduring enemy when he accused a Van Nuys prosecutor, Ed Consiglio, of taking favors from one mob suspect.

Forced to resign from the district attorney's office, Consiglio became, as he put it, "sort of an expert on Mr. Brambles," gathering complaints from everyone from mob figures to other officers that the detective trumped up evidence.

Eventually, LAPD superiors had second thoughts about the star detective. In 1989, Brambles was transferred from the organized crime unit to the West Los Angeles station--to work car theft investigations--after another detective alleged before a grand jury that he rigged a photo lineup.

Brambles took medical leave in November 1993, then retired the following March--two months after the robberies began. He became a suspect after a clerk at a dry cleaners that had been robbed saw Brambles at a motel and called police. A search of Brambles' motel room and vehicle turned up evidence linking him to the robberies.

Outside court Friday, former Van Nuys prosecutor Consiglio said: "It's not a case of a good cop who went bad. It's a bad guy who finally got caught."

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