Karen Cunagin Sypher sentenced

Updated: February 18, 2011, 9:16 PM ET
Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A woman was sentenced Friday to more than seven years in prison for threatening to reveal a sexual tryst with Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino unless he paid her millions in cash, luxury cars and a house.

Karen Cunagin Sypher cried intermittently and gave a short, incoherent statement during Friday's hearing before being sentenced to 87 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Simpson III. He also ordered two years of supervised release after she serves her prison term.

Sypher
Sypher

A jury convicted Sypher in August of extortion, lying to the FBI and retaliation against a witness. The charges carried a maximum sentence of 26 years, but federal sentencing guidelines called for a shorter term.

She was also ordered to pay $600 in fines but does not have to pay restitution.

Her attorney, David Nolan of Alexandria, Va., said he would file an appeal Monday.

"We expected it," said James Faller, founder of U.S. Justice Watch, a self-described government watchdog group that works with whistle-blowers and is part of Sypher's legal team. "We actually expected [Simpson] to probably be worse to her."

Sypher was released on bond. After a closed, 2½-hour hearing on a prosecution attempt to have her immediately taken into custody, Simpson determined she was not a danger to the community but said she cannot travel outside the western half of Kentucky.

Simpson called the crime "sheer greed and a desire for money and other accoutrements for a lifestyle for which the defendant desired."

Pitino was not at the hearing Friday. His lawyer, Steve Pence, said the sentence was appropriate.

Following the hearing, Sypher clung to her son, Jacob Wise, as they left the courthouse, but did not comment.

Given the opportunity to make a statement in court, the former model and auto glass saleswoman appeared befuddled. "I wanted to say everything that has happened to me and my family and my children ... " she began, then thanked her legal team for introducing witnesses during the sentencing hearing that had not been introduced at trial. Her trial attorney did not call any witnesses.

Her 70-year-old mother, Judith Cunagin, was visibly shaken following the hearing, and sobbed as she got into the elevator with her daughter. She said she didn't know what she would do when Sypher went to prison.

"Stop living," she said. "She's the one that's kept me going."

Since being convicted, Sypher has hired new attorneys and accused the judge, prosecutors, her former attorneys and Pitino of taking part in a conspiracy to ensure she was found guilty.

Salacious details about Pitino and Sypher's relationship -- from descriptions of their one-night stand and a resulting abortion to accusations of betrayal and rape -- emerged throughout the investigation, Sypher's trial and during the five-hour sentencing hearing.

Pitino, a married father of five, testified during trial that he had sex with Sypher -- who then was known as Karen Wise -- in the empty restaurant after she whispered to him and then unzipped his pants. Pitino said the sex lasted "15 seconds" and was "unfortunate."

The testimony subjected Pitino to questioning from both prosecutors and defense attorneys that aired intimate details of the brief encounter and subsequent interactions between the two.

According to testimony in the trial, Sypher called Pitino a few weeks later and said she was pregnant. Tim Sypher, a longtime Pitino aide and now Karen Sypher's ex-husband, testified he arranged for an abortion and paid for it with $3,000 Pitino had given Karen Sypher. He testified that the two met when Pitino asked him for help after she said she was pregnant.

Pitino said he thought the money was for counseling and medical needs, but Sypher later said she had an abortion.

After being charged with extortion, Karen Sypher claimed Pitino raped her. She filed a complaint with Louisville police, but Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney David Stengel dismissed the allegations as meritless.

Two witnesses testified that Sypher traded sexual favors for help with the extortion plot.

Although Sypher never testified, jurors heard her version of events when prosecutors played a never-broadcast TV interview in which she claimed Pitino raped her.

Some witnesses described Sypher as persistent and flirty that night, though no one else testified to witnessing the sex.

Pitino has coached at Louisville since 2001. He has coached three different schools to the Final Four -- Louisville, Providence and Kentucky, where he won a national title. Along with the Boston Celtics, Pitino also coached professionally with the New York Knicks.


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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