Federal Jury in Louisville Convicts Karen Cunagin Sypher in Connection with $10 Million Extortion Attempt of Richard Pitino

LOUISVILLE—A federal jury today convicted 50-year-old Karen Cunagin Sypher of attempting to extort $10 million from University of Louisville men’s head basketball coach Rick Pitino, announced U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky David J. Hale and Elizabeth A. Fries, Special Agent in Charge, Kentucky Office of the FBI.

Following eight days of trial, the jury convicted Sypher on all counts contained in a superseding indictment returned in November 2009 including three counts of extortion, two counts of making false statements to FBI agents, and one count of witness retaliation.

Evidence presented during trial revealed that in February 2009, Sypher caused another individual to place three phone calls to Pitino’s cell phone threatening to harm Pitino’s reputation, accuse him of raping Sypher on two occasions, and causing her to have an abortion in 2003. One phone call gave Pitino a two-week deadline to make things right or the caller would divulge the information to the media. In April 2009, when interviewed by agents with the FBI looking into the extortion matter, Sypher denied knowing the identity of the caller.

The jury also found that on March 22, 2009, Sypher caused a Louisville attorney to send Pitino a letter threatening to harm Rick Pitino’s reputation and demanding compensation based on Sypher’s accusations that Pitino raped her twice, forced her to have an abortion, and orchestrated her marriage to one of his assistants in order to silence her. Sypher also made a false statement to FBI agents when she told them that her relationship with her attorney was strictly business. Jurors heard evidence that she, in fact, was involved in a sexual relationship with her attorney.

Finally, jurors heard evidence that on July 14, 2009, in retaliation for Rick Pitino reporting Sypher’s extortion attempt, Sypher went to the Louisville Metro Police Department and filed a criminal complaint alleging that Rick Pitino raped her. Sypher’s allegations were later determined by the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney to be without merit.

Sypher faces up to two years in prison per extortion count, up to five years in prison per false statement count, and up to 10 years in prison for witness retaliation.

U.S. District Judge Charles R. Simpson III will sentence Sypher on Oct. 27, 2010, following the completion of a pre-sentence report.

This case was the result of a 15-month-long investigation by special agents of the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorneys John E. Kuhn Jr., and Marisa J. Ford prosecuted this case on behalf of the government.