Published August 12, 2009
| Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino told police he had sex with a woman accused of trying to extort him of $10 million and later paid for her abortion, a newspaper reported Tuesday.
The Courier-Journal of Louisville reported on its Web site that Pitino told police he had been drinking in a Louisville restaurant and had consensual sex with Karen Sypher in August 2003. The police report said the 56-year-old coach denied allegations by Sypher that he raped her after the restaurant closed and at another time somewhere else. He said he later gave her $3,000 for an abortion.
Sypher reported the rape allegations to police last month, but a Kentucky prosecutor said the complaint wouldn't be prosecuted because it lacked supporting evidence. Sypher, 49, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of lying to the FBI and trying to extort money from Pitino, who is married.
About two weeks after meeting Sypher at the restaurant, Pitino told police that she called, told him she was pregnant and that he had to be the father. Pitino told her when they met again that he had five children and she had four, and that he didn't know what he wanted to do, according to the report by Sgt. Andy Abbott, commander of the sex-offense unit.
Pitino said Sypher told him she was going to have an abortion but didn't have health insurance, so he gave her the money, according to Abbott's report.
Pitino's lawyer, Steve Pence, said the story is about Sypher and not his client.
"Karen Sypher is indicted for extortion," Pence said. "The commonwealth's attorney has said she is void of any credibility on these 6-year-old allegations she has made."
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said in a statement that "Coach Pitino has been truthful with us about this matter all along and we stand by him and his family during this process."
The newspaper cited Louisville Metro Police reports from an investigation into Sypher's rape accusations. The newspaper obtained the records under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
Sgt. Robert Biven, a Louisville Metro Police spokesman, said the records couldn't be released to The Associated Press Tuesday night because the office that would prepare them was closed for the day.
Abbot asked Sypher during one interview why she waited until after she was indicted on the extortion charge to report her allegations.
She gave varying answers, according to transcripts, saying she wanted to forget about it, then that Pitino threatened her and finally that "they kept throwing crumbs to keep me happy." She didn't say what they were, the newspaper reported.
Abbott asked Sypher in the interview why she was coming forward now, only after she was charged.
"Because ... where we are, it seems like retaliation," Abbott said.
"I know it does," Sypher responded.
The case became public in April when Pitino released a statement saying someone had tried to extort him. Pitino said he reported it to the FBI, and Sypher surrendered to authorities a few days later when she was named in a criminal complaint. At the time, several media outlets declined to air interviews with Sypher about allegations against Pitino because they were personal and unsubstantiated.
University sports information director Kenny Klein said Pitino was in his office on Tuesday but directed all inquires to Pence.
School president James Ramsey said his thoughts were with Pitino and his family. Pitino and his wife Joanne have five children, including son Richard, an assistant who left the program after last season to join Billy Donovan's staff at Florida.
"Several months ago Coach Pitino informed me about the alleged extortion attempt. I've now been informed that there may be other details which, if true, I find surprising," Ramsey said in a statement.
Pitino is Catholic and brings along close friend and spiritual adviser, the Rev. Edward Bradley -- a priest in Henderson, Ky. -- on many team trips. Bradley often prays with the team before games and is a fixture near the Louisville bench.
There was no answer late Tuesday at the priest's office where he also lives.
Neither Sypher nor her attorney, James Earhart, immediately returned calls from The Associated Press seeking comment. Earhart told The Courier-Journal he hadn't received the records and couldn't comment.
Sypher is married to the team's equipment manager, Tim Sypher, but divorce papers were recently filed. Tim Sypher served as Pitino's personal assistant with the Boston Celtics from 1997-2001, then followed the coach to Louisville in 2001 to become the team's equipment manager.
The criminal complaint said Tim Sypher brought Pitino a written list of demands from his wife, including college tuition for her children, two cars, money to pay off her house and $3,000 per month. The demands later escalated, the complaint said. Tim Sypher has not been charged in the case.
Pitino just finished his eighth season with the Cardinals, leading Louisville to a 31-6 record and the Big East regular-season and tournament titles. The Cardinals lost to Michigan State in the regional finals of the NCAA tournament.
Pitino has coached two NBA teams. He went 90-74 with the New York Knicks from 1987 to 1989 and 102-146 with the Celtics from 1997 to 2001. He was at Kentucky from 1989 to 1997, with one national championship and two additional trips to the Final Four.