Trial for extortion of Pitino starts

Trial for extortion of Pitino starts

Published Jul. 25, 2010 1:00 a.m. ET

A woman charged with trying to extort University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino lied repeatedly in an attempt to squeeze millions from the coach, then traded sexual favors and lied again to cover her crime, federal prosecutors said at the start of her trial Monday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kuhn told jurors that Karen Cunagin Sypher threatened to ruin Pitino's reputation with false allegations of rape and forced abortion.

''I submit to you that you will not believe a word she has to say about anything,'' Kuhn said.

Sypher, 50, has pleaded not guilty to extortion, retaliating against a witness and lying to the FBI. She is accused of demanding college tuition for her children, her house to be paid off and $10 million.


A jury of eight men and eight women were selected to hear the case. Four jurors will be excused as alternates before deliberations begin. Sypher's attorney, James Earhart, is set to make an opening statement Monday afternoon.

Kuhn walked jurors through the relationship between Sypher and Pitino, which began with a sexual encounter at an Italian restaurant in Louisville in 2003. Sypher later told Pitino she was pregnant, planned to have an abortion but did not have medical insurance. He told police he gave her $3,000, money his attorney Steve Pence said was for insurance, not an abortion.

Six years later, Kuhn said, Sypher approached a longtime friend, Lester Goetzinger, and traded sexual favors for his making phone calls in February 2009 to Pitino threatening to tell the public that the coach raped Sypher in 2003. Kuhn played part of one call for jurors.

''You need to do the right thing, that's all,'' Goetzinger is heard saying on the tape.

A month later, Sypher traded sexual favors with attorney Dana Kolter, who then signed a joint letter with his client demanding money and threatening to file suit over the 2003 sexual encounter, Kuhn said. Kolter and Goetzinger will testify later at trial.

Pitino reported the extortion attempts to the FBI, which interviewed Sypher several times. Kuhn said Sypher lied repeatedly to investigators about who made the calls, her relationship with Kolter and what happened at the restaurant, Porcini.

''If you boil all that down, what this case is ultimately leaves you with is lies,'' Kuhn said.

Sypher filed a report with the Louisville police department in June 2009 accusing Pitino of rape in 2003. Federal prosecutors say the police report was in retaliation for Pitino reporting the alleged extortion attempt to the FBI.

State prosecutors have said Sypher's claim is without merit. Kuhn said the report is the basis for the charge of retaliating against a witness.

Pitino has coached at Louisville since 2001, a job he took after leaving the NBA's Boston Celtics, where Sypher's estranged husband, Tim Sypher, served as special assistant to Pitino. Tim and Karen Sypher are in the midst of a divorce. They have a young daughter together.

Pitino has coached three different schools to the Final Four - Louisville, Providence and Kentucky, where he won a national title. Along with the Celtics, Pitino also coached professionally with the New York Knicks.

Pitino signed a three-year contract extension with Louisville in May 2007 that could keep him at the school through 2013. The deal pays him an annual salary of $2.5 million a year if he stays until the end of the contract. He'll receive a loyalty bonus in 2013 if he remains with the school.