Ex-attorney for woman accused of extorting Pitino says he wrote letter demanding $10 million

By Brett Barrouquere, AP
Friday, July 30, 2010

Ex-lawyer says he wrote letter demanding $10M

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Karen Cunagin Sypher’s former attorney told jurors at her extortion trial he had sexual relations with the former model before writing a letter to Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino demanding $10 million.

Attorney Dana Kolter testified Friday that he and Sypher had sexual relations three times during the three-week stretch he represented her in March 2009.

Kolter eventually wrote Pitino a letter, signed by Sypher, accusing the coach of rape and forcing Sypher to have an abortion. In the letter, Kolter threatened to sue Pitino and make the allegations public unless he agreed to a settlement.

Sypher is charged with trying to extort millions from Pitino with a promise to stay quiet about their one-night fling in a Louisville restaurant in July 2003. She has pleaded not guilty.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Rick Pitino never said a woman who claimed the Louisville basketball coach got her pregnant after a one-night stand had to get an abortion but did advise she “go out of town” to get medical care, his longtime aide told a jury Friday.

The aide, Tim Sypher, was testifying against the woman, his ex-wife Karen Cunagin Sypher. He testified about helping her get an abortion at her extortion trial. The two divorced after she was indicted last year on charges of demanding cash and gifts worth millions from Pitino to keep secret their 2003 tryst on a restaurant table.

Tim Sypher, 49, testified that he called clinics in Indiana and Ohio before taking the woman, then known as Karen Wise, to Cincinnati, where she terminated the pregnancy on Aug. 29, 2003. Tim Sypher said he paid for the procedure from $3,000 Pitino gave to Karen Sypher for medical care.

“I just figured it was a good thing to do, go out of town,” Tim Sypher said. “Yeah, he (Pitino) said go out of town.”

Pitino, married and Roman Catholic, has said he intended for the money to be used for medical insurance, not an abortion. The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to abortion.

Karen Sypher, 50, has pleaded not guilty. After she was indicted, she told police Pitino raped her, but authorities didn’t pursue charges.

Tim Sypher, who has worked for Pitino in various capacities since 1996, told jurors the coach called him on Aug. 23, 2003, and asked to use his condo to meet with a woman about a “supposed pregnancy.” That meeting took place just less than a month after Pitino and Sypher had sex after hours at Porcini, an Italian restaurant where they met a few hours earlier.

As Pitino and Sypher met downstairs, Tim Sypher said, he waited for about an hour in an upstairs bedroom.

“In a situation like that, you know, I just wanted the day over with,” Tim Sypher said. “I heard nothing.”

Defense attorney James Earhart asked Tim Sypher why Pitino called him, then a single 43-year-old, to take care of a pregnant woman.

“This is a situation that is potentially devastating to Rick Pitino, let’s be honest,” Earhart said. “This doesn’t need to come out.”

“True,” Tim Sypher said. “… If he hadn’t asked me, who then?”

Six days after the meeting at the condo, Tim Sypher drove Karen Sypher to a women’s clinic in Cincinnati, where she had an abortion. Jurors saw records from the clinic on Thursday indicating she was about 5 weeks pregnant. As Karen came out of the clinic, Tim Sypher said he extended his hand, prompting “a look I’ll never forget.”

“Sir, I’m not lying to you. We hit it off. It was quick,” Tim Sypher testified. “I’m not lying to you, I’m not lying to anybody here. We clicked.”

Once back in Louisville, Karen Sypher asked if she could see Tim Sypher again. The two began dating and were married less than a year later. Over the next five years, Karen Sypher attended functions around Pitino without problems, Tim Sypher said.

Tim and Karen Sypher had given each other nicknames drawn from the movie “Driving Miss Daisy,” Tim Sypher said. She was “Daisy,” while he was the driver, “Hoke.”

“Every time you make reference to her as Daisy and you as Hoke, you are resurrecting memories of the trip to get an abortion,” Earhart said.

“You might have looked at it that way, but it was just pet names,” Tim Sypher said.

By 2007, the marriage deteriorated, Tim Sypher said. Then, on Feb. 26, 2009, Pitino received two anonymous calls threatening to expose the one-night stand and accuse the coach of rape. Pitino sent a text message that said “red alert,” then called, asking for a meeting with Karen Sypher, Tim Sypher said.

“When you get red alert, something serious is going on,” Tim Sypher said. “I didn’t know what to think. I just waited for the next step.”

Jurors earlier in the week heard from Lester Goetzinger, a longtime friend and sometime sexual partner of Karen Sypher. Goetzinger said he made the calls after receiving sexual favors from Karen Sypher. He testified as part of a deal with prosecutors.

Jurors have heard Pitino call Karen Sypher the aggressor in their liaison and her version of events when prosecutors played a never-broadcast TV interview of her rape claim. They’ve also seen a handwritten note from Sypher to Pitino that asked for cars, housing and money.

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