Bodybuilder arrested for offer to murder woman in Bryant case

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 19, 2003

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (AP) - Authorities on Thursday arrested a Swiss bodybuilding coach they said made a $3 million offer to kill the woman who has accused Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant of sexual assault.

Patrick Graber was arrested for investigation of soliciting a murder after making the offer to Bryant's security director and then meeting with undercover detectives, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca told a news conference at his headquarters.

Baca said Graber, 31, of El Segundo, agreed to carry out the murder for $1 million up front and $2 million after the fact.

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''We believe it was a credible threat,'' sheriff's Lt. Jim Taylor said. He added that just before the arrest, Graber was given a bag full of movie studio prop money.

Graber was booked and held on $1 million bail, and an arraignment was set for Monday. Sheriff's officials said he had an expired visa and worked at a local gym.

The investigation began Sept. 8 after security personnel employed by Bryant said they had received a letter from Graber saying he could solve Bryant's problems, the Sheriff's Department said.

A security official met with Graber and then contacted sheriff's investigators. A meeting was arranged with Graber and undercover sheriff's detectives.

The detectives concluded that Graber was offering to commit murder and they contacted the accuser's family in her home state of Colorado and authorities there to advise them of the alleged threat.

Sheriff's undercover investigators had several more meetings with Graber in which a money exchange for the murder was arranged, officials said.

Authorities said others may have been involved in the alleged plot. Taylor said Graber planned to hire someone to commit the crime and offered to provide evidence that it had been done.

''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.

Graber allegedly told authorities he was involved in organized crime, possibly the Russian mafia. Sheriff's detectives said they do not have any evidence that Graber had those ties, but are investigating.

Bryant is charged with raping a 19-year-old employee of a mountain resort in Eagle County, Colo., on June 30. He has said the two had consensual sex.

Defense attorney Pamela Mackey said Thursday that Bryant, his lawyers and his accuser have received multiple threats since the basketball star's arrest.

''This atmosphere threatens not just Mr. Bryant, his lawyers and the accuser, but the fundamental right to a fair trial before an impartial jury,'' Mackey said in a statement.

Mackey added that the suspect used the name ''Yuri'' in his contact with Bryant's camp and that his meetings with law enforcement agents were recorded.

Telephone messages left by The Associated Press with the accuser's family and her attorney were not immediately returned.

Also Thursday, authorities said an investigation requested by Bryant's defense team has cleared the Eagle County sheriff and district attorney of leaking details about the case to the media.

Sheriff Joe Hoy said he had no doubt his office would be cleared.

''We just do not spread leaks or allow leaks to happen,'' he said.

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mackey declined comment.

A number of print and broadcast media stories have detailed the investigation and quoted anonymous sources. County Court Judge Frederick Gannett, who had already issued a gag order in the case, ordered the investigation after Bryant's defense complained.

Pitkin County investigators cleared authorities in Eagle County, but it remained unclear who is leaking details to the media.

Free on $250,000 bond, Bryant faces an Oct. 9 preliminary hearing to determine whether he will stand trial. He faces up to four years to life in prison if convicted.