- Associated Press - Thursday, August 5, 2010

LOUISVILLE, Ky. | A Kentucky woman was convicted Thursday of demanding millions of dollars from Rick Pitino to keep secret their one-night stand in a restaurant, then claiming the Louisville basketball coach raped her after he reported the extortion.

Karen Cunagin Sypher, 50, of Louisville, was found guilty of three counts of extortion, two counts of lying to the FBI and one count of retaliating against a witness. She stared at the ceiling as the verdict was read, while one of her sons wept openly.

The case involved a 2003 sexual encounter between Mr. Pitino and Sypher, a former model at car shows, at a table inside an Italian restaurant closed for the night. Mr. Pitino testified that she came on to him and that the sex was consensual. After she was charged, Sypher told police it was rape, but Mr. Pitino was never charged.

Last year, Mr. Pitino received three threatening phone calls and two letters demanding cash and gifts for Sypher to keep the tryst secret. One of the letters showed to the jury was a handwritten note from Sypher that asked for cars, tuition for her children and her mortgage to be paid off.

Neither Sypher nor her attorney commented as they left federal court after her eight-day trial. But one of her sons, Jacob Wise, confronted prosecutors. “Thanks for taking my mother away, guys,” said Mr. Wise, 20.

A University of Louisville spokesman said the coach was traveling and referred calls to Pitino attorney Steve Pence, who said the jury did the right thing.

Jury foreman Glen Elder told the Associated Press that the panel went through the charges line by line and that there were no disagreements during about five hours of deliberations that began Wednesday afternoon.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 26 years in prison, but under federal sentencing guidelines, the penalty likely will be lighter. She will remain free until her sentencing Oct. 27.

“This was nothing more than a pure shakedown of Richard Pitino,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa Ford told jurors in closing arguments.

Sypher attorney James Earhart told jurors that Sypher had been “villainized” during the trial. He argued that the government’s case proved that “rules don’t apply to the privileged” like Mr. Pitino, who was the star witness.

Prosecution and defense attorneys questioned the coach in detail about the night he met Sypher, then known as Karen Wise. Mr. Pitino, a married father of five, told the jury the two had sex in the empty restaurant after she whispered to him and then unzipped his pants.

Mr. Pitino said the sex lasted “15 seconds” and was unfortunate.

Mr. Pitino has coached at Louisville since 2001. He has coached three schools to the Final Four - Louisville, Providence and Kentucky, where he won a national title. Along with the Celtics, Mr. Pitino also coached professionally with the New York Knicks.

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