Swiss bodybuilder caught in sting

Updated: September 20, 2003, 1:26 PM ET
Associated Press

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- A Swiss bodybuilder will be charged with multiple felonies for allegedly offering to kill the alleged victim in the Kobe Bryant sex assault case in exchange for $3 million, prosecutors said Friday.

The charges to be filed Monday against Patrick Graber, 31, include four counts of solicitation to commit murder, according to a statement released by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. Graber was held on $1 million bail.

Graber was arrested Thursday in El Segundo, south of Los Angeles, after meeting undercover investigators and allegedly agreeing to a deal in which he would receive $1 million up front and $2 million after the killing.

Graber was seized as he reached for a bag filled with phony money, according to detectives who began their investigation after Bryant's security director reported receiving a letter from Graber.

Graber's lawyer, Peter Knecht, dismissed any involvement by his client in organized crime.

"Whatever happened here, this is not organized crime. It's disorganized crime," Knecht said.

He said Graber was "a naive guy" who may have been looking for money but never intended to kill anyone.

Authorities said Graber, a bodybuilding coach at a gym, has been in the United States about two years and his visa had expired.

A search warrant was served where Graber lived and firearms were found, Taylor said.

The investigation started Sept. 8, after Bryant's security personnel said they had received a letter stating that the writer could solve Bryant's problems, the sheriff's department said.

A meeting was eventually arranged with Graber and undercover sheriff's detectives.

The detectives concluded that Graber was "a credible threat," sheriff's Lt. Jim Taylor said. They contacted the Eagle County, Colo., district attorney's office and the accuser's family to advise them of the alleged threat.

"He had given us information specifically about the family that led us to believe he knew them quite well,'' Taylor said.

Knecht said everything his client knew about the family came from the Internet.

Taylor said Graber planned to hire someone to commit the crime and would provide evidence showing they had accomplished their goal against Bryant's alleged victim. Graber said he could have acted quickly, possibly within a week, to commit the crime, Taylor said.

"He said he could make her not come to court, he could make her disappear, he could make her have a drug overdose," Taylor said. "He was specific in that manner."

Graber allegedly told authorities he was possibly involved with the Russian mafia, Taylor said. Detectives had no evidence Graber had such ties but are investigating.

Bryant is charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old employee of the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in June. The Los Angeles Lakers star has said the two had consensual sex.

The alleged murder-for-hire scheme is not the first threat to Bryant's accuser. Earlier this month, a University of Iowa student was arrested for leaving a threatening message on the woman's answering machine in July.

Police records show that her father has called police at least twice in recent weeks to report suspicious incidents.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press