Woman convicted in Pitino extortion case (AP)

Aug 5th, 2010 | By sportsnews | Category: Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—A Kentucky woman was convicted of extortion Thursday
after she demanded millions of dollars from Louisville basketball coach Rick
Pitino to keep their tryst at a restaurant secret.

Karen Cunagin Sypher, 50, of Louisville, was found guilty of three counts of
extortion, two counts of lying to the FBI and one count of retaliating against a
witness. As the jury’s verdict was read, Sypher closed her eyes, then opened
them and stared at the ceiling. One of her sons sitting in the front row with
other family members wept openly.

The case involved a 2003 sexual encounter between Pitino and Sypher at a
table inside an Italian restaurant closed for the night. Pitino testified she
came on to him and the sex was consensual. After she was charged, Sypher told
police it was rape but Pitino was never charged.

Last year, Pitino received threatening phone calls and two letters demanding
cash and gifts for Sypher to keep the tryst secret.

Sypher faces a maximum sentence of 26 years in prison, but under federal
sentencing guidelines, the penalty will likely be lighter. She will be sentenced
Oct. 27.

The jury deliberated for slightly more than five hours over two days. The
trial lasted eight days.

“This was nothing more than a pure shakedown of Richard Pitino,” Assistant
U.S. attorney Marisa Ford told jurors in closing arguments Wednesday.

Defense attorney James Earhart told jurors Sypher had been “villainized”
during the trial. He argued that the government’s case proved that “rules don’t
apply to the privileged” like Pitino.

The star witness was Pitino.

Prosecution and defense attorneys questioned him in detail about the night
he met Sypher, then known as Karen Wise. The married father of five told the
jury they had sex in an empty restaurant after she whispered to him and then
unzipped his pants.

The tryst that he described as lasting 15 seconds was “unfortunate,”
Pitino told the jury. Sypher watched attentively during Pitino’s six hours of
testimony but showed no reaction.

After a brief stumble stepping into the witness box, Pitino held his own as
he sparred with the defense lawyer. He struggled to control his emotion as he
described how hard it had been to tell his family about the affair and advise
his son, then working on his staff, to take a job at Florida avoid the
unpleasant publicity.

Although Sypher never testified, jurors heard her version of events when
prosecutors played a never-broadcast TV interview where she claimed Pitino raped

“It didn’t last long. It seemed like hours for me,” Sypher said, appearing
to cry. “All he said was shut up, shut up and be quiet.”

Although some witnesses described Sypher as persistent and flirty that
night, no one else testified to witnessing the sex.

The jury also heard how Pitino responded when the woman told him a few weeks
later she was pregnant. She met her future husband when Pitino asked his
longtime, Tim Sypher, for help. Tim Sypher testified he arranged for an abortion
and paid for it with $3,000 Pitino had given Karen Sypher.

Pitino said he thought the money was for counseling and medical needs but
Sypher later said she had an abortion.

The Syphers married soon after and occasionally saw Pitino at events, Tim
Sypher said.

The coach told jurors that he received phone calls in February 2009 from a
man who threatened to expose what happened between Pitino and Karen Sypher.

“He mentioned the word rape. I got very sick to my stomach,” Pitino said.
He acknowledged to jurors, though, that he didn’t go to authorities for about
two months as he tried to “contain” the damaging information.

Prosecutors showed the jury a handwritten note from Sypher that asked for
cars, tuition for her children and her mortgage to be paid off.

Two witnesses who testified they helped Karen Sypher by making threats to
Pitino also said they were sexually involved with her.

Pitino has coached at Louisville since 2001, after leaving the NBA’s Boston
and previously coaching at Kentucky.

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