crimesider

Basketball Coach Rick Pitino Sextorted for $10M, Say Prosecutors

(AP)
Coach Rick Pitino

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino told police he had sex in a restaurant six years ago with a woman now accused of trying to extort millions of dollars from him. And when she told him two weeks later she was pregnant, he gave her $3,000 for an abortion.

The Courier-Journal of Louisvillereported on its Web site Tuesday that Pitino told police he had been drinking in a Louisville restaurant and had consensual sex with Karen Sypher in August 2003. The police report said the 56-year-old coach denied Sypher's allegations that he raped her after the restaurant closed and at another time somewhere else.

Sypher reported the rape allegations to police last month, but a Kentucky prosecutor said the complaint wouldn't be prosecuted because it lacked supporting evidence. Sypher, 49, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of lying to the FBI and trying to extort $10 million from Pitino, who is married.

Sypher's attorney, James Earhart, said Wednesday morning that he hadn't yet talked to Sypher about the release of the police documents, but planned to later in the day. He said he didn't know how it would affect the case against her since all those involved were already aware of the documents.

Pitino told police that about two weeks after meeting Sypher at the restaurant, she called to tell him she was pregnant and he had to be the father. Pitino told her when they met again that he had five children and she had four, and that he didn't know what he wanted to do, according to the report by Sgt. Andy Abbott, commander of the sex-offense unit.

Pitino said Sypher told him she was going to have an abortion but didn't have health insurance, so he gave her $3,000 for the procedure done in Cincinnati, according to the report.

Pitino's lawyer, Steve Pence, said the story is about Sypher and not his client.

(AP Photo/Brian Bohannon)
Karen Cunagin Sypher, April 24, 2009, outside Gene Snyder Courthouse in Louisville, Ky.

"Karen Sypher is indicted for extortion," Pence told The Associated Press. "The commonwealth's attorney has said she is void of any credibility on these 6-year-old allegations she has made."

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said in a statement that "Coach Pitino has been truthful with us about this matter all along and we stand by him and his family during this process."

The newspaper cited Louisville Metro Police reports that it obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act. Police spokesman Sgt. Robert Biven said the records couldn't immediately be released Tuesday because the office that prepares them was closed for the day.

Abbott asked Sypher during one interview why she waited until after she was indicted to report the rape allegations.

She gave varying answers, according to transcripts, saying she wanted to forget about it, that Pitino threatened her and finally that "they kept throwing crumbs to keep me happy."

Abbott asked Sypher why she was coming forward only after she was charged. "Because ... where we are, it seems like retaliation," Abbott said. "I know it does," Sypher responded.

The case became public in April when Pitino announced that someone had tried to extort him. Pitino said he reported it to the FBI, and Sypher surrendered to authorities a few days later when she was named in a criminal complaint. At the time, several media outlets declined to air interviews with Sypher about allegations against Pitino, saying they were personal and unsubstantiated.

Sypher told police she met Pitino at the restaurant and asked him to speak to her sons on the phone, which he did. She said the place's owner gave Pitino the keys at the end of the night and asked him to lock up when he left. She claimed Pitino then forced himself on her.

University sports information director Kenny Klein said the coach was in his office on Tuesday but directed all inquires to Pence. Pitino finished his eighth season with the Cardinals, leading them to a 31-6 record and the Big East regular-season and tournament titles. The Cardinals lost to Michigan State in the regional finals of the NCAA tournament.

School president James Ramsey said his thoughts were with Pitino and his family. Pitino and his wife Joanne have five children, including son Richard, an assistant who left the program after last season to join Billy Donovan's staff at Florida.

"Several months ago, Coach Pitino informed me about the alleged extortion attempt. I've now been informed that there may be other details which, if true, I find surprising," Ramsey said in a
statement.

Pitino is Catholic and brings along close friend and spiritual adviser, the Rev. Edward Bradley - a priest in Henderson, Ky. – on many team trips. Bradley often prays with the team before games and is a fixture near the Louisville bench.

There was no answer late Tuesday at the priest's office where he also lives.

Sypher is married to the team's equipment manager, Tim Sypher, but divorce papers were recently filed. Tim Sypher was Pitino's personal assistant with the Boston Celtics from 1997-2001, then followed the coach to Louisville in 2001.

The criminal complaint said Tim Sypher brought Pitino a written list of demands from his wife, including college tuition for her children, two cars, money to pay off her house and $3,000 per month. The demands later escalated, the complaint said. Tim Sypher has not been charged.

Besides Louisville and the Celtics, Pitino coached the New York Knicks from 1987 to 1989. His ties to the Bluegrass State are strong. He was at Kentucky from 1989 to 1997, where he earned one national championship and two other trips to the Final Four.

Pitino took Providence to the Final Four in 1987.
  • Ryan Smith

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