• Bitter ‘Milkman’ Issue Again Haunts Bugliosi

Bitter ‘Milkman’ Issue Again Haunts Bugliosi

LOS ANGELES, May 2 – A bitter issue that has followed attorney Vincent Bugliosi through two previous campaigns and a series of lawsuits has resurfaced in his bid for district attorney in the June 8 primary election.

Known as the “milkman” case, it involves charges that Bugliosi misused the district attorney’s office in the late 1960s when, as a deputy district attorney, he initiated a background search by the district attorney’s Bureau of Investigation of a man involved with him in a personal dispute.

The issue is being revived primarily by two Bugliosi opponents in the six-candidate nonpartisan primary, incumbent Dist. Atty. John Van de Kamp and Beverly Hills attorney George Denny, a long-time Bugliosi adversary.

Increasingly during recent campaigning Van de Kamp and Denny have been focusing on Bugliosi and the “milkman” issue, which first surfaced during the closing days of Bugliosi’s losing campaign for district attorney in 1972.

The issue, as it did in 1972 and again in 1974, when Bugliosi ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic Party’s primary for state attorney general, has already generated a series of angry statements.

It has come up at public meetings, and been the subject of television commentary.

Van de Kamp and Denny are both attacking Bugliosi on the issue.

Bugliosi, who has never denied using the Bureau of Investigation to obtain information on his former milkman during 1968 and 1969, provided ammunition to his opponents when he told a KNBC television commentator that such practices were common and did not constitute a misuse of the office.

Van de Kamp, who had been quiet on the issue until it came up on KNBC, made a public attack on Bugliosi after the television report.

The evening the report went on the air, his top deputy Chief Dep. Dist. Atty. Stephen Trott, publicly questioned Bugliosi’s honesty at a San Fernando Valley candidate’s forum. The next day, the Van de Kamp campaign released official documents relating to the milkman investigation. A day later came the call for an investigation by a member of a lawyer’s committee for Van de Kamp.

Van de Kamp charged that Bugliosi’s activity during 1968 and 1969 “represented an official abuse of his position,” and said such activity is “now strictly prohibited.”

“The issue is relevant because it shows how he would use this office. I think clearly a person’s past is relevant to how he will act in the future,” Van de Kamp said during an interview.

Denny, who has opposed Bugliosi in a series of legal actions stemming from the milkman case, said Bugliosi’s comments represented “the tunnel vision thinking of a persecutor, not a prosecutor.”

The Bugliosi campaign countered by describing the charges as “the same old political hash that’s been dished out in the past,” and said Bugliosi would have nothing further to say on the matter.

Several weeks earlier, however, Bugliosi had characterized a reemergence of the issue as “dirty, rotten viciousness.”

Speaking of publicity over the case, he said, “I think it’s outrageous that it was ever covered in the first place,” and added:

“I never used my office to investigate this person, and there’s no evidence of that I asked my office to get a phone number for this person. I never had my office investigate this thing. It was a private matter, and being a private matter, why should it be in the paper?”

Van de Kamp and Denny dispute Bugliosi’s contention that he merely obtained a phone number through his office.

Bugliosi’s campaign director, Harvey Englander, branded the rebirth of the issue a form of “cheap politics,” and said it was a sign that the Van de Karnp campaign was “frightened.”

He accused Van de Kamp of repeatedly refusing to meet Bugliosi head-on in a debate, and said the milkman issue was a smokescreen to hide the fact that the district attorney “refuses to talk about the issues.”

The controversy has left in its wake a challenge to the glamorous image of Bugliosi as the superprosecutor of the Manson Family, piles of court documents, damaged reputations and deeply rooted bitterness.

One of the reasons the issue has not died is Bugliosi’s aggressive pursuit of public office, a pursuit that took him into the 1972 district attorney’s race, the 1974 primary for state attorney general and now the 1976 district attorney’s race.

The other reason is George Denny, a man who has given up a significant amount of his time and money over the last four years in a personal crusade against Bugliosi.

Most of Denny’s ammunition against Bugliosi comes from two cases, the first of which is the milkman case.

That case involves charges by a former milkman who delivered milk to Bugliosi’s home in 1965 that the then deputy district attorney harassed him over a three-month period in 1969 for “personal” reasons after finding out where he worked and obtaining his unlisted telephone number from the Bureau of Investigation.

Bugliosi’s first response to the charges, which surfaced shortly before Bugliosi’s close runoff election against the late Dist. Atty. Joseph Busch in 1972, was that he suspected that the milkman, Herbert H. Weisel, had stolen $300 from his home.

But, in a subsequent slander and defamation-of-character suit filed the day before the election as the result of the theft allegation, Weisel claimed that Bugliosi was “obsessed” with the notion that Weisel had fathered his child — a notion strongly denied at the time by both Weisel and Bugliosi’s wife and for which there has never been a shred of documentation.

Weisel, in the suit, said Bugliosi “harassed and terrified” him and his wife and subjected them to “mysterious phone calls, night visiting automobiles, and finally personal confrontations.”

Bugliosi, who denied the charges, eventually made an out-of-court settlement with Weisel in March, 1973, reportedly paying him $12,500 in damages.

Denny served as the attorney for Weisel and his wife, and the first, but not the last, of his run-ins with Bugliosi developed out of that case.

Denny was instrumental in bringing the Weisel case to public attention in 1972. At the time, Denny was a member of a “truth squad” that supported Busch and hit hard at Bugliosi.

Then, when Bugliosi got into the 1974 primary for attorney general. Denny followed him around the state, issuing what he called a “Bugliosi Fact Sheet,” which detailed not only the Weisel case but a second and equally controversial case.

The second case involved a Santa Monica woman who filed an assault-and-battery charge against Bugliosi in 1973, allegedly stemming from a sexual encounter, and then a day later told police it was a false report. Subsequently, however, the woman — Virginia Cardwell — indicated she would sue Bugliosi for civil damages, and Bugliosi made a settlement with her for a reported $5,000.

Denny, for a brief period, served as Miss Cardwell’s attorney.

During the 1974 Democratic primary election (won by Los Angeles attorney William Norris, who was subsequently defeated by Republican Atty. Gen. Evelle J. Younger) Bugliosi and Denny got involved in heated charges and countercharges.

The exchanges, marked by mutual assertions that the other was a liar, led to a preelection filing of a slander and defamation of character suit by Denny against Bugliosi, and a cross-complaint by Bugliosi alleging the intentional causing of emotional distress, defamation, abuse of process and conspiracy. Both sides agreed to drop the suits in June, 1974, 10 days after Norris won the primary.

All of this is said to have directly influenced two elections — to what degree is unknown — and tarnished the once glittering image of Bugliosi.

Before the 1972 election, Bugliosi was the star of the district attorney’s office, and had the reputation as being the office’s top prosecutor.

Much of that was due to the case that climaxed his eight-year career with the district attorney’s office — his successful prosecution of Charles Manson and his followers for the Tate-LaBianca murders.

That case won Bugliosi national fame, and led to his best-selling book, “Helter Skelter,” and a television movie based on the book that is said to be highly flattering to Bugliosi. The movie was blacked out in Los Angeles until after the current campaign.

Before the Tate-LaBianca case, Bugliosi had run up a record of successful prosecutions. Two of the better known cases involved the mass conviction of 24 student dissidents at Cal State Northridge, and the conviction of two lovers, Paul S. Perveler and Mrs. Kristina Cromwell, for the murder of their respective spouses in a scheme to collect double indemnity insurance payoffs.

These and other cases made Bugliosi a public figure. He came across publicly as tough, aggressive, outspoken, egotistical and controversial.

He was commended by his boss, then Dist. Atty. Evelle Younger (who is now supporting Van de Kamp), and a local magazine said of him: “If central casting had produced him, it’s doubtful they could have done a better job.”

Bugliosi became the model of a television movie about a deputy district attorney. The star of the movie, “The D.A.: Murder One.” was Robert Conrad, who patterned himself after Bugliosi down to Bugliosi’s characteristic three-piece suits.

So it is against that background that first the Weisel case emerged, just days before his runoff election against Busch, and then the Cardwell affair.

(There was, in addition to these cases, one other controversy involving Bugliosi. He was indicted for perjury by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury in 1974 for allegedly lying under oath in denying he gave a Manson case transcript to Times reporter Bill Farr, but the charges were dismissed when Farr refused to testify.)

Bugliosi has been hurt both publicly and privately — the Weisel and Cardwell charges sometimes bring his wife, Gail, to tears.

His pat response to questions raised as the result of the Weisel and Cardwell cases is: “I did not do those things. If I had, my wife of 20 years would not be living with me.”

He is bitter about news stories that bring the issues up again. He considers them personal attacks, with no journalistic justification. He worries about the effect on his wife and children.

Bugliosi, reflecting at one stop during the campaign on what has happened to his once bright image, blamed it on “the power structure.”

“It turned around on me because I decided to run for district attorney. The power structure. Their primary interest is in perpetuating themselves. They worry about me because they do not own me: they did not create me,” he said.

He spoke similar words in 1974 when he told another reporter after the dismissal of the perjury charges, “ever since I stood up to and took on the corrupt Establishment in this city I have been victimized by one phony, false, fabricated charge after another. I have decided to stay out of politics. I am tired of being the Billy Jack of Los Angeles County.”

Denny takes a different position. He claims that the issues would be dead had Bugliosi not decided to run again, but says he thinks they are extremely important because they deal with questions of honesty, abuse of office, perjury, and whether Bugliosi would use the office to carry out personal vendettas.

Denny claims perjury and the fabrication of police records were involved in the Cardwell case, an intense amount of personal harassment (all charges are denied by Bugliosi) in the Weisel case, and that there is no such thing as a statute of limitations in politics.

“It galls the hell out of me when the media say that there will be mudslinging and that real issues won’t be addressed. What could be more of an issue? Look at Watergate. You have to think long and hard about the honesty and integrity of candidates,” Denny said.

“I get so frustrated when I hear that George Denny has a vendetta against Bugliosi and hates Vince Bugliosi — I’m not the guy who forced him to run this time. He decided to run this time all by himself. Sure it’s going to hurt his family, but he knew it would hurt his family when he decided to run,” he said.

Denny’s own honesty and integrity have been questioned as the result of his disclosures of the settlement of the Weisel case. As part of the Weisel settlement, he signed a liquidated damages agreement, along with Bugliosi and other parties, never to reveal terms of the settlement. He violated his word when he exposed the settlement at a press conference.

Denny argues that he had thought Bugliosi would never run for office again, and that he had a public responsibility to reveal the settlement because of Bugliosi’s campaign for attorney general.


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