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 will likely 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 was never charged.
Last year, Pitino received threatening phone calls and two letters demanding cash and gifts for Sypher to keep the tryst secret.
”This was nothing more than a pure shakedown of Richard Pitino,” Assistant U.S. attorney Marisa Ford told jurors in closing arguments Wednesday.
Defense attorney James Earhart told jurors Sypher had been ”villainized” during the trial. He argued that the government’s case proved that ”rules don’t apply to the privileged” like Pitino.
The star witness was Pitino.
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.
The tryst that he described as lasting 15 seconds was ”unfortunate,” Pitino told the jury. Sypher watched attentively during Pitino’s six hours of testimony but showed no reaction.