Pitino extortion attempt investigated

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville coach Rick Pitino says he is the victim of an extortion attempt and has forwarded the information to the FBI.

Pitino reported the threats to authorities last month, and the FBI is investigating, the university said in a statement released Saturday. The statement did not specify the nature of the threats.

The investigation involves the estranged wife of one of Pitino's staff members, equipment manager Tim Sypher.

Thomas Clay, an attorney for Karen Sypher, says he was contacted by the FBI regarding extortion allegations leveled by Pitino last week but had no further comment to The Associated Press.

"I can't be more specific than they talked to her," Clay said. "Yes, there could be a criminal prosecution."

FBI spokesman David Beyer confirmed there was an ongoing investigation into Pitino's complaint and that no other law enforcement agencies were involved. Beyer did not name the target of the investigation.

Pitino did not want to go public with the news but decided Saturday afternoon to issue a statement, after news organizations began inquiring about the issue.

"I recently learned that the individual behind this extortion attempt has already gone to the media with false, defamatory and outrageous allegations in an attempt to pressure me to cave in to this scheme," Pitino said.

Karen Sypher recently did a lengthy interview with the Louisville Fox affiliate, WDRB-41, but the station reported Saturday night that it "has decided not to relate details of her claims at this time."

WDRB news anchor Candyce Clifft, who conducted the interview with Karen Sypher, said the station has chosen not to air it because "we couldn't substantiate the claims she was making."

Clifft said the claims against Pitino were "of a personal nature, not related to his recruiting or coaching. That's all I'm at liberty to say."

Clifft said Sypher approached WDRB with the information.

Clifft said she interviewed Sypher for nearly two hours on-camera, in the presence of WDRB's general manager and news director. Afterward, the station had an independent polygraph expert administer a lie-detector test to Sypher -- a test she agreed to do before the interview.

Clifft said that the polygraph test could have any of three results: pass, fail or inconclusive. She said Sypher's test fell into the inconclusive range. Clifft said there were some questions she asked that Sypher did not answer conclusively or convincingly, which heightened the station's concerns about the veracity of her information.

Coupled with the fact that there were no criminal complaints filed or charges levied, the station decided not to air the interview.

"I don't know if we'll ever air all or any of the interview," Clifft said. "Right now there are no plans to do that."

A Louisville source told ESPN.com that Pitino began receiving threatening phone calls in late February from Sypher and possibly other accomplices, and the calls continued throughout the Big East and NCAA tournaments. In late March, Pitino called the FBI and apprised it of the attempt to extort him.

Tim Sypher issued a statement through the school Sunday morning.

"I am devastated by the bizarre allegations that my estranged wife is making against both Coach Pitino and myself," the release said. "At this point, my primary concern is for my young daughter and four stepsons, both to the impact of their mother's actions on them, as well as the impact on Coach's family and the university.

"I love my children, and want to protect them," the statement said. "At the same time, I intend to defend the allegations vigorously and will have no additional comment at this time."

The Syphers are in the process of getting divorced. A Jefferson County Family Court docket listing showed that the two were scheduled to appear for a dissolution hearing last Monday, April 13.

The revelation Saturday night prompted speculation about the timing of Richard Pitino's decision to leave Louisville for an assistant coaching job at Florida. That was reported Friday afternoon, and ESPN.com sources at the time said Rick Pitino's son was leaving to enhance his resume as a potential head coach outside his father's shadow.

Richard Pitino said Sunday via text message to ESPN.com that the extortion issue was completely unrelated to his changing jobs.

"Had nothing to do with me leaving," Richard Pitino said. "Me and Billy [Donovan] talked two weeks ago about that [job change]."

Richard Pitino otherwise declined comment. Rick Pitino declined comment Sunday afternoon to ESPN.com through Louisville media relations director Kenny Klein. Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich did not respond immediately to messages left by ESPN.com seeking comment.

A call to Pitino's attorney, Steve Pence, by The Associated Press on Saturday evening was not immediately returned.

Tim Sypher has worked with Pitino for the past 12 years. He served as Pitino's personal assistant with the Boston Celtics from 1997-2001, then followed Pitino to Louisville in 2001 to become the team's equipment manager.

Tim Sypher previously worked as an investigator for the state of Massachusetts for a decade. He and Karen Sypher have a daughter. Karen Sypher also has four sons.

Pitino just finished his eighth season in Louisville. The Cardinals won both the Big East regular season and conference tournament championships before falling to Michigan State in the NCAA tournament regional finals.

"I want to make it clear that I intend to vigorously defend my reputation and the character of my family against any criminal scheme to extort money," he said. "I am hopeful the media and public will recognize the slanderous nature of this direct and malicious attack."

Information from ESPN.com's Pat Forde and The Associated Press was used in this report.