LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A jury on Thursday convicted a Kentucky woman of extortion after she demanded millions of dollars from Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino to keep their tryst at a restaurant quiet.
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 faces a maximum sentence of 26 years in prison, but under federal sentencing guidelines, the penalty likely will be lighter. She will be sentenced Oct. 27.
The jury deliberated for slightly more than five hours over two days. The trial lasted eight days.
The case involved a 2003 sexual encounter between Pitino and Sypher at a table inside an Italian restaurant closed for the night. Pitino testified she came on to him and the sex was consensual. After she was charged, Sypher told police it was rape, but Pitino never was charged.
Prosecution and defense attorneys questioned him in detail about the night he met Sypher, then known as Karen Wise. The married father of five told the jury they had sex in an empty restaurant after she whispered to him and then unzipped his pants.
After a brief stumble stepping into the witness box, Pitino held his own as he sparred with the defense lawyer. He struggled to control his emotion as he described how hard it had been to tell his family about the affair and advise his son, then working on his staff, to take a job at Florida to avoid the unpleasant publicity.
“It didn’t last long. It seemed like hours for me,” Sypher said, appearing to cry. “All he said was, ‘Shut up, shut up and be quiet.’”
Although some witnesses described Sypher as persistent and flirty that night, no one else testified to witnessing the sex.
The jury also heard how Pitino responded when the woman told him a few weeks later she was pregnant. She met her future husband when Pitino asked his longtime personal assistant, Tim Sypher, for help. Tim Sypher testified he arranged for an abortion and paid for it with $3,000 Pitino had given Karen Sypher.
“He mentioned the word rape. I got very sick to my stomach,” Pitino said. He acknowledged to jurors, though, that he didn’t go to authorities for about two months as he tried to “contain” the damaging information.
Prosecutors showed the jury a handwritten note from Sypher that asked for cars, tuition for her children and her mortgage to be paid off.
Pitino has coached at Louisville since 2001, after leaving the NBA’s Boston Celtics and previously coaching at Kentucky.
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