Police talk with Pitino about complaint

Updated: July 15, 2009, 1:21 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Police have interviewed Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino about allegations brought by a woman charged with trying to extort him, his lawyer said Monday.

Attorney Steve Pence said Pitino has been cooperating in the investigation and that the allegations are false. The woman, Karen Cunagin Sypher, has pleaded not guilty in federal court to charges of trying to extort money from Pitino and lying to the FBI.

Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel said the Louisville police sex-offense unit contacted him last week to tell him Cunagin Sypher had made a complaint and that it was turning the matter over to Stengel after the investigation is complete, probably this week.

Louisville police spokeswoman Alicia Smiley said police have spoken with the woman but wouldn't comment further.

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

Pence said Pitino went to authorities after learning Cunagin Sypher had contacted police.

"Coach Pitino has been interviewed by the [police], is cooperating with their investigation and has passed an independent polygraph examination refuting Karen Sypher's allegations," Pence said.

"Her recent allegations to Louisville Metro Police Department are false and just another part of the fraud she has tried to perpetrate against Coach Pitino and his family," Pence said in a statement. "Facing federal charges, she is now attempting to create a defense."

"Coach Pitino has denied the accusations made against him. In our eyes, he did not need to take a polygraph exam because we believe him," Louisville vice president and athletic director Tom Jurich said. "However, we're glad he did so he could refute the allegations, recognizing that they come from a person who is facing federal charges which include not being truthful. We will closely monitor the matter as it is handed through the legal system and will stand by Coach Pitino and his family during the process."

Cunagin Sypher's attorney, Thomas Clay, filed a motion last Thursday asking to withdraw from the case, citing irreconcilable differences. The court has not yet ruled on the motion.

Clay told The Associated Press on Monday that while he remains Cunagin Sypher's legal counsel, "I am not authorized, nor will I speak about anything involving her."

The Associated Press could not reach Cunagin Sypher for comment. Calls to a cell phone number that she has used in the past did not go through.

No trial date was set after prosecutors and Clay agreed last month that they needed more time to review evidence in the case.

Cunagin Sypher's longtime friend, Lester Goetzinger, has been charged with taking part in the alleged extortion plot.

Goetzinger reached a deal with prosecutors that, in exchange for having his record cleared, he would testify against Cunagin Sypher.

Prosecutors say Goetzinger left three voicemail messages on Pitino's unlisted cell phone number between Feb. 26 and Feb. 28 at Cunagin Sypher's request. Goetzinger's attorney, John Berry of Louisville, said Cunagin Sypher traded sexual favors in exchange for the phone calls.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE