Pitino ‘tested’ on truth at trial
Posted: Thursday, July 29, 2010 4:38 pm
By: By BRETT BARROUQUERE and DYLAN T. LOVAN, Associated Press Writers
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The trial of a woman accused of trying to extort Rick Pitino began its fourth day with a heated exchange this morning between the Louisville basketball coach and the woman’s attorney.
Attorney James Earhart was questioning Pitino about allegations that he raped Karen Cunagin Sypher when the coach interrupted, saying he was “here to give the truth.” Earhart replied, “I bet you are.”
Earhart also questioned Pitino about calls made to the coach’s phone about a sexual encounter he and Sypher had in 2003 inside an Italian restaurant in Louisville.
Sypher has pleaded not guilty and claims she was raped during the restaurant encounter. However, no charges were ever filed, and authorities have said her claims lacked merit.
Sypher is charged with extortion and has been accused of asking for cash, cars and a house to stay quiet about the sexual liaison.
Pitino testified for about four hours Wednesday, telling jurors that Sypher initiated the sex by whispering to him and unzipping his pants when he got up to leave an empty Italian restaurant.
The Louisville coach’s testimony marked the first time he’s talked publicly in detail about his July 2003 encounter with Sypher, the meeting that led to her trial this week on extortion charges. Pitino’s portrayal of Sypher as the aggressor came after several witnesses said she was flirty and persistent when she approached Pitino at the restaurant.
Pitino obliged her request to say happy birthday to her son on her cell phone. When she returned later, Pitino said, he bought the former model a drink. They lingered to talk after the restaurant had closed and the owner had gone home.
As he got up from the table, the married father of five said Sypher whispered something.
“Some unfortunate things happened,” Pitino said. “She opened up my pants.”
“Did you have sex that night?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa Ford asked.
“Yes, very briefly,” Pitino answered. The two have said they had sex at the table.
A few weeks later, Sypher, then known as Karen Wise, called and said she was pregnant.
“I didn’t believe at the time it was my child,” Pitino said. “She said she didn’t know what she was going to do.”
Sypher said she had no health insurance, Pitino said, so he offered $3,000. He thought the money was for counseling and medical needs but Sypher later said she had an abortion, Pitino said.
Less than a year later, Pitino’s assistant, Tim Sypher, married Karen Wise. Witnesses said the two appeared at Louisville functions with Pitino.
The threats to reveal the sexual fling came nearly six years later, Pitino said.
On Feb. 26, 2009, he listened to a cell phone message of a man’s voice describing details of the encounter at the restaurant and calling it a violent assault, Pitino told the jury.
“He mentioned the word rape. I got very sick to my stomach,” Pitino said. He has repeatedly denied the rape allegations.
Jurors earlier heard testimony from Lester Goetzinger of Louisville, who acknowledged making the calls in exchange for sexual favors from Sypher.
Pitino also testified he received a handwritten note from Sypher in March 2009 that asked for cars, housing and money. The note was hand delivered to Pitino by her then-husband Tim Sypher, who was the team’s equipment manager at the time.
Pitino received a third threatening call two days later telling him that the sexual relationship would be made public unless he did “the right thing.”
Pitino said in March 2009, he received a letter from attorney Dana Kolter of Louisville, who was representing Sypher. In the letter, which jurors saw Wednesday, Kolter accused Pitino of rape and forcing Sypher to have an abortion and demanded a monetary settlement to prevent a lawsuit from being filed.
Kolter is expected to testify later Thursday.
Pitino contacted the FBI a short time later, then released a public statement saying someone tried to extort money from him.
Pitino has coached at Louisville since 2001, after leaving the NBA’s Boston Celtics where Tim Sypher served as his special assistant. Tim Sypher continued to work for Pitino as Louisville’s men’s basketball equipment manager and has recently been named director of the Yum Center, the building that houses offices and training facilities for Louisville’s men’s basketball team.
Karen and Tim Sypher are in the midst of a divorce.