Sunday, Aug. 16, 2009 | At some point, Alfred Koonin turned from witness to suspect.
For years, he cooperated with FBI agents as they investigated a failed murder-for-hire plot that spanned two continents. He gave multiple statements to investigators and even testified about what he said he knew in front of a grand jury: that a friend in South Africa asked him to pick up a business associate at the Los Angeles airport and give him a place to stay.
Prosecutors, though, eventually came to believe that Koonin gave the man, Valter Nebiolo, more than a couch to sleep on. They charged Koonin with conspiracy, perjury, aiding and abetting a murder-for-hire and extortion, alleging that he provided the gun that Nebiolo used to try and kill a La Jolla real estate broker after being hired by Koonin’s friend.
Koonin, who maintains his innocence, was convicted in 2001 after a short trial and sentenced to 15 years in prison, three more years than Nebiolo received after pleading guilty and testifying against him. The friend, Ronald Abel, a South African lawyer and mastermind of the entire plot, has escaped prosecution.