Jury deliberating in extortion trial involving Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino

By Brett Barrouquere, AP
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Jury begins deliberating in Pitino extortion case

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A jury on Wednesday started deliberating the fate of a Kentucky woman accused of demanding millions from Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino to keep quiet about their sexual tryst.

Karen Cunagin Sypher has pleaded not guilty to extortion and other charges. She did not testify in her own defense, and her attorneys rested their case without calling any witnesses. If convicted, Sypher could face prison time.

Assistant U.S. attorney Marisa Ford told jurors in closing arguments that Sypher was “looking for a golden parachute, something for nothing” when she demanded $10 million, college tuition for her children and her house paid off in exchange for her silence about having sex with the coach, a married father of five, at an Italian restaurant in July 2003.

“This was nothing more than a pure shakedown of Richard Pitino,” Ford said.

Sypher’s attorney, James Earhart, said his client’s ex-husband and longtime Pitino aide Tim Sypher tried to extort the coach. Tim Sypher was at the center of every criminal act and used his then-wife to get back at the coach he worked for since 1996, Earhart said.

“Rick Pitino and Karen Sypher are victims of Tim Sypher’s scheme,” Earhart said.

Although she didn’t testify, jurors have heard from Sypher in the form of several hours of videotaped interviews with Louisville television stations and the police.

In interviews with WDRB-TV in Louisville and police, Sypher claimed Pitino raped her after the restaurant Porcini emptied July 31, 2003.

“It didn’t last long. It seemed like hours for me,” said Sypher, appearing to cry, although no tears were visible on the video. “All he said was shut up, shut up and be quiet.”

Ford said the interview with the television station in April 2009 and the one with police a few months later were riddled with inaccuracies. Sypher also lied in several FBI interviews, Ford said.

Multiple witnesses have contradicted Sypher’s stories — differing with her account of what she wore, what time of day the sex took place and even the weather outside the restaurant.

“When you’re not telling the truth about something, you can’t keep your facts straight,” Ford said.

Once the FBI considered her an extortion suspect, Sypher twice called media outlets to accuse Pitino of rape before going to police, Ford said. The rape claim was made in retaliation for Pitino reporting the extortion attempt to the FBI, Ford said.

“She’s interested in damaging Rick Pitino’s reputation,” Ford said. “She’s intent at this point in payback.”

Earhart said Sypher was the victim of a botched police investigation and the victim of a “scheme” to take her down.

The star of the prosecution’s case was Pitino, who testified before a standing-room only crowd for more than five hours over two days, telling jurors he had an “unfortunate” sexual encounter with Sypher and that he felt “sick to my stomach” when the extortion calls started Feb. 26, 2009. Pitino received two calls that day and a third a couple of days later.

“I could never rape a woman or be physically harmful to any woman at any time,” Pitino said.

Earhart told jurors Pitino wasn’t truthful about what happened in the restaurant and said the coach didn’t deny raping Sypher at a meeting with her on the day the extortion charges started. Earhart said Pitino gave “one of the most moronic responses to a question” when the coach said he didn’t deny raping Sypher at the meeting because she knew it wasn’t true.

On the night of the sexual tryst, two restaurant patrons told jurors Sypher first approached Pitino, forcing her way into his circle of friends and that the two were hitting it off as the night went on. Pitino testified that the sexual encounter lasted 15 seconds.

About four weeks later, Sypher approached Pitino, saying she was pregnant and he was the father, which the coach denied.

Sypher said she had no health insurance, Pitino said, so he offered $3,000. He thought the money was for counseling and medical needs but Sypher later said she had an abortion, Pitino said.

Tim Sypher drove her to Cincinnati to have the abortion.

The two became romantically involved and married in April 2004. They are now divorced, but locked in a legal battle over custody of their 5-year-old daughter.

Three men have testified to having affairs with Sypher while she was married to Tim Sypher. Lester Goetzinger admitted to making the extortion calls in exchange for sexual favors from Sypher. He reached a deal with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony.

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