Woman enters not guilty plea

Updated: May 13, 2009, 3:16 PM ET
Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A woman accused of trying to extort millions of dollars from Louisville coach Rick Pitino pleaded not guilty Wednesday. She later defiantly announced she "will not break" while surrounded by supporters on the courthouse steps.

Karen Cunagin Sypher was mostly silent at her arraignment but proclaimed her innocence to reporters afterward. Her attorney indicated he might seek a change of venue because of extensive publicity.

Sypher's arraignment came one day after her indictment on federal charges of trying to extort money from Pitino and lying to the FBI. A criminal complaint last month claimed her demands included college tuition for her children, two cars, her house to be paid off and $3,000 per month.

The demands later escalated to $10 million, according to the complaint.

Sypher, the estranged wife of a longtime Pitino aide, told reporters after the hearing that the charges had created "a very dark cloud" for her family, which she called "very unjust to me, very unfair."

Seemingly bolstered by her supporters, Sypher said she was prepared to see the case through to "the very end" and then added: "I will not break."

"Justice will prevail," she said. "Yes, yes. I have to believe in the justice system. I have to."

Sypher, 49, remains free on her own recognizance. Her trial was scheduled for June 29.

Pitino attorney Steve Pence said in a statement last month, when Sypher was charged, that the coach "takes no comfort in this prosecution and remains astonished by these events." Pence said Wednesday that no further statement would be made.

Kenny Klein, spokesman for Louisville athletics, also declined to comment.

The estranged wife of Louisville equipment manager Tim Sypher was greeted outside the courthouse by eight supporters. They held hand-made signs with sayings including "Money Power" and "Leave Karen Sypher Alone." Sypher, accompanied by two of her sons, hugged the group of family and friends, who accompanied her to the courtroom.

Sypher's attorney, Thomas Clay, entered the not guilty plea on her behalf.

She faces a maximum of seven years in prison and a $500,000 fine if convicted of both charges.

Clay said after the hearing that Sypher's version will eventually be heard and said he will consider filing a motion to move the trial out of Louisville.

"Because of the extensive publicity, it's going to be one of the first things I consider," he said.

The case became public last month when Pitino released a statement saying someone had tried to extort him. The coach said he reported it to the FBI. Sypher surrendered to authorities a few days later when she was named in the criminal complaint.

Authorities have not said what information Sypher might have been trying to use to allegedly extort Pitino. They have said the coach believed it was related to an unspecified 2003 encounter with her.

Several media outlets have declined to air interviews with Sypher, saying the allegations are of a personal nature and are unsubstantiated.

Pitino took over Louisville's basketball program in 2001. He has coached three different schools to the Final Four -- Louisville, Providence and Kentucky, where he won a national title. He also coached the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks in the NBA.

Pitino signed a three-year contract extension with Louisville in May 2007 that could keep him at the school through 2013. The deal pays him an annual salary of $2.5 million a year if he stays until the end of the contract. He'll receive loyalty bonuses of $3.6 million in 2010 and 2013 if he remains with the school.

He has recently said there is no truth to rumors that he is considering a return to the NBA.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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