Details revealed about original gangster squad investigations

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by Sybil Hoffman

azfamily.com

Posted on January 9, 2013 at 11:01 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 9 at 11:20 AM

PRESCOTT, Ariz -- It was a time when the mob was expanding its criminal authority into Los Angeles and the response by law enforcement was to create an underground unit known as the gangster squad. Now, decades later, the notorious squad is connecting two Arizona men.

According to Buz Williams of Prescott, Ariz., "LAPD was accused of keeping files on all kinds of politicians, actors and actresses -- that's true."

Williams should know. His grandfather Benny and father Dick Williams were among the original members of LA's gangster squad.

"They started their own files," Williams explained. "They started from scratch."

In the 1940s, the small group of undercover detectives had one assignment.

"Their job was to keep organized crime out of Los Angeles, especially from the East," Williams said.

On Friday, the era known for police corruption, undercover raids and mob killings hits the big screen in the movie "Gangster Squad."

"Everybody wants to know secrets, everybody loves gossip and that was our primary business was learning secrets about anybody that wielded power," said Mike Rothmiller, a former L.A. detective.

When it came to wielding power, one of the most notorious names was none other than Mickey Cohen. A gangster who controlled the gambling industry in L.A. and, according to the stories Williams heard, "A personable guy. You'd like him if you just started to talk to him."

But also, extremely dangerous as Rothmiller points out.

"Mickey Cohen's power was based in payoffs and bribes and ruthlessness," he said. "He was very ruthless. He was involved in many killings himself."

Rothmiller was part of the Organized Crime Intelligence Division, aka gangster squad, of the mid-70s and 80s. He recently discovered his connection with Williams.

The badges, police photos, even original lock picks bring back memories of a time when wire taps were common in police investigations.

"You have to realize, when they first started, you didn't need a search warrant to plant a bug," Williams said. "All you needed was prior permission from the chief of police."

"Nobody's really concerned about civil rights violations or civil rights lawsuits," Rothmiller said.

As for the upcoming movie, "It will probably be pretty close but, you know, I don't expect it to be totally accurate," according to Williams.

"Hopefully it will be entertaining and hopefully there will be some factual information that comes across but I'll have to wait and see," Rothmiller said.

Rothmiller and Williams now reside in Prescott. Rothmiller wrote "L.A. Secret Police, Inside the LAPD Elite Spy Division."

 

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