Posted by Charles Gazaway - email
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – After an 8-day trial, a federal jury in Louisville has convicted Karen Sypher on all charges in the attempted extortion of Rick Pitino. In addition to extortion, Sypher was charged with lying to the FBI and retaliation against a witness. Federal prosecutors say Sypher threatened to publicize allegations that Pitino raped her unless he delivered cash, cars and a house.
The jury began deliberating at 3 p.m. Aug. 4, then stopped for the day around 5 p.m. Deliberations resumed around 9:30 a.m. Thursday with the jury breaking for lunch around 12 Noon. They notified the court they had reached a verdict around 1:25 p.m. The decision was announced just before 2 p.m.
During seven days of testimony, among the witnesses called by federal prosecutors were two FBI agents, two detectives with the Louisville Metro Police Department Sex Crimes Unit, both of Sypher's ex-husbands, her former attorney and several men who said they had sexual relationships with Sypher.
Sypher made claims to LMPD that she was raped twice by Pitino. The first occurring on August 1, 2003 at Porcini, an Italian restaurant on Frankfort Avenue in Crescent Hill; the second, two weeks later at the condo of Tim Sypher, the basketball equipment manager for UofL and a man she later married.
Pitino took the stand on July 28 and testified that he did have a brief sexual encounter with Sypher after meeting her at Porcini on July 31, 2003. That night at the restaurant, Pitino said he was out celebrating the hiring of then-assistant Reggie Theus. Sypher said she was there to meet an executive from the Courier-Journal for a job interview, but Michael Przybylek, who worked for the Courier-Journal at the time, told jurors during his testimony on July 27 the first time he met Sypher was at Porcini and that she did not meet him for a job interview as she told a TV reporter in a taped interview. Przybylek did say that he mentioned there could be future job openings at the Courier-Journal.
On the stand, Pitino told the jury he was at the end of the bar at Porcini when Sypher ran up to him with her cell phone and asked him to wish her son happy birthday. Pitino said Sypher flirted with him and started rubbing his leg. At the end of the night, Pitino said Sypher suggested they go to the booth to finish their wine when she opened his pants and asked if he had a condom, warning him she was very fertile.
Pitino testified that scared him and said the sexual encounter lasted all of 15 seconds. When asked what led to the encounter, Pitino said, "Ignorance on my part. I'm a married man; I should have never put myself in that situation."
Pitino admitted he gave Sypher $3,000, but said she asked him for the money to pay for health insurance.
"I did not pay for the abortion," Pitino said.
Six years later, Pitino testified that he began getting voice mails from an unknown male, who was later identified as Lester Goetzinger. The caller brought up allegations of rape, Sypher's abortion from their encounter and threats to go to the media. The prosecution used Sypher's own secret recordings from a February 2009 meeting with Pitino where she told him she didn't know who was making the calls.
- Sypher: "Don't accuse me."
- Pitino: "Karen, I'm not accusing you."
- Sypher: "If I was going to do this I would have done it a long time ago."
In March 2009, the night before Pitino's University of Louisville Cardinals won the Big East regular season championship at West Virginia, Pitino said Tim Sypher, his basketball equipment manager and Sypher's husband, handed him a handwritten list of demands on U of L letterhead. The following is a transcription of the note containing the list of demands:
1. College education for all 4 boys, Zachary, Jacob, Kaleb & Quade Wise until graduated.
2. Car of my choice & Jacob's choice - Also, all insurance pd. on both for 2 yrs.
3. House - paid off – my choice of movers & all closings covered, etc.
4. $3,000 in cash a month for 5 years for groceries, bills, etc.
5. Annabelle's accounts to be put into Karen Cunagin Syphers' name only.
6. All to begin immediately, starting 3-6-09!! Cash payments to begin this month.
7. When Rick Pitino leaves U of L - a cash payment of $75,000 to be given to me, Karen Cunagin Sypher.
*If all is accepted, I will protect Rick Pitino's name for life.
Karen Cunagin Sypher
3-6-09 1:06 p.m.
Days later, right before the Big East Tourney, Pitino said he got a phone call from Karen Sypher's mother asking why her grandson hadn't gotten his car yet.
Pitino said he got a certified letter dated March 22, 2009 from Dana Kolter, the man who was at that time Sypher's attorney. The letter, which was postmarked March 23, 2009, demanded an immediate settlement for Sypher's rape and abortion. Pitino says he contacted his attorney and the authorities. According to Pitino, Sypher and Kolter then demanded $10 million, but said they would settle for $5.5 million.
When prosecutors asked Pitino about Sypher's allegations that he raped her twice and forced her to get an abortion, he responded, "absolutely not," and referred to a voice mail he left for Sypher in 2003 telling her the abortion would be her decision. The voice mail, which was played in court, Pitino said in part, "It has to be your call."
On July 29, Tim Sypher told jurors about the day he first met his now ex-wife, who at the time was named Karen Wise, back in 2003. Sypher said he first heard about her from Pitino. Tim Sypher told jurors what he said the coach said to him.
"He asked me if I could help him with something," said Tim Sypher. "That he supposedly got somebody pregnant."
Tim Sypher testified that on August 25, 2003, he set up a meeting with Karen and Pitino at his condo. That meeting is where Karen Sypher told police officers Pitino raped her for a second time. Tim Sypher said he wasn't in the room for the hour-long meeting and heard nothing. But he told jurors Karen's hair was not messed up when she left.
The next day, Tim Sypher said he set up Karen's abortion appointment. Three days later, on August 29, 2003, he drove Karen to Cincinnati Women's Services for the procedure. Tim Sypher also testified Pitino gave him $3,000 in cash to give to Karen for health insurance.
Following Tim Sypher to the stand was Christina Weigand, a registered nurse from Cincinnati Women's Services, who testified that Sypher was five weeks pregnant at the time of the abortion and that she said her reason or having it was the desire to have no more children.
During testimony on July 30, Dana Kolter, a man who had been Sypher's former attorney, said he had been sexually involved with Sypher starting in 2007, even though both were married to other people at the time. The prosecution introduced a shocking and graphic picture taken on Valentine's Day 2008 in Kolter's office of Sypher performing a sexual act on him.
When the defense got its turn, attorney Jim Earhart asked Kolter about Karen Sypher's mood the day she told him that Rick Pitino raped her and forced her to have an abortion.
According to Kolter, on March 21, 2009, he got a call from a distraught Karen Sypher. After the phone call, Kolter says Karen Sypher visited him and told him that Pitino raped her and forced her to have an abortion. He says he took notes, comforted her - and then they had sex.
The prosecution asked why he helped her. Kolter started to tear up as he answered.
"If what she was telling me was the truth, they would kill her," Kolter said. "I had to do something to help."
The next day he sent a letter demanding action within two days, but he says he eventually became concerned with some of her statements. According to his notes, Karen Sypher told him that Pitino raped her on a snowy night, but the alleged rape happened in Porcini.
Kolter also recalls her saying Pitino "forced her pantyhose down" but Kolter testified that has never seen her wear pantyhose.
Kolter also told jurors he was concerned about why Karen Sypher would have driven Pitino home if he had raped her, and questioned why Pitino would have left her pleasant voicemails after the abortion.
In the end, Kolter testified that he believed Sypher.
The second week of the trial began on August 2 with Sypher's first ex-husband testifying that she rejected a $100,000 settlement from Pitino and wanted $500,000 to keep their sexual encounter quiet.
Keith Wise, who goes by Randy, said that in the summer of 2009, Karen Sypher told him, "If I'm going down, I'm going to take Pitino with me."
Wise said he told Sypher to take the settlement for the sake of their kids.
In testimony later that day, LMPD Det. Mona Sullivan said that when Karen Sypher came to LMPD headquarters to make her charge against Pitino, it was the first time that she had seen a person claiming to be a sexual assault victim show up with a TV camera and reporter. Sullivan also testified that she saw TV reporter Melanie Kahn give Karen Sypher her business card and tell her to call her when she was done.
In a story reported by Khan that aired after Karen Sypher's meeting with police, Sypher talked about her children being dragged into the situation with Pitino.
"They have taken away their childhood," Sypher said in the interview, "that's why I'll fight to the bitter end. The truth will come out."
In testimony that lasted over two days, Sgt. Andy Abbott of the LMPD Sex Crimes Unit, the person in charge of taking Sypher's testimony when she came in with the allegations of rape, said he had concerns about Sypher had been telling him.
Abbott spoke about the taped interview he did with Karen Sypher in the summer of 2009, a video that jurors started watching on August 2 and finished the next morning. Abbott said his concerns were mostly on the emphasis Sypher placed on abortion rather than the alleged rapes. Abbott also said he had concerns about the truthfulness of her allegations.
At one point in the interview, Abbott asked Sypher when she felt threatened by Pitino. Sypher answered Abbott's question, but when he asked the question again later, Sypher gave a different answer. When Abbott told her she contradicted herself, Sypher said she had not. Abbott then stopped the audio recording that was being made of the interview and played back the tape for Sypher. After hearing her own words, Sypher said it was a long time ago but the story she is telling is true.
At the end of the interview, Abbott asked Sypher what she wanted to have happen to Pitino. Rather than answering the question directly, Sypher told Abbott that Pitino was an extortionist and a murderer and did not mention him being a rapist.
In cross-examination, the defense asked Abbott if Sypher's case was being handled as a normal case. Abbott said that in a normal case, a detective would be handling the interviews and investigations. But in this situation, Abbott said he as a supervisor, was handling it.
The prosecution rested its case following Abbott's testimony. The defense was expected to start its case on August 4, but rested without calling any witnesses.
Karen Sypher remains free on her own recognizance. She will be sentenced on October 27 at 10 a.m.