Sypher Charged With Extortion, Lying To FBI

by Rick Howlett on April 24, 2009

Karen Sypher, the estranged wife of University of Louisville basketball team equipment manager Tim Sypher, has been charged in federal court with trying to extort money from U of L basketball coach Rick Pitino, and with lying to FBI during its investigation of the case.

Pitino disclosed the alleged extortion attempt last weekend.

Here is the text of a release about the charges from the U.S. Attorney’s Office:

LOUISVILLE, KY – Acting United States Attorney Candace Hill, and Timothy D. Cox, Special Agent in Charge, Louisville Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, jointly announce that a criminal complaint was filed today in United States District Court, in Louisville, Kentucky, against Karen Sypher, of Louisville, Kentucky. The criminal complaint charges that Sypher violated Title 18, United States Code Section 875(d), by transmitting in interstate commerce, with the intent to extort money, a threat to injure the reputation of University of Louisville Basketball Coach Rick Pitino; and charges that she violated Title 18, United States Code Section 1001, for knowingly and willfully making materially false statements to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation during the course of their investigation into the extortion.

According to an Affidavit filed by Agent Steven J. Wight, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sypher was responsible for telephone messages left on Pitino’s cell phone by an unidentified male in February, 2009. The telephone messages concerned unsubstantiated allegations of a personal nature, and threatened disclosure to the media. Sypher falsely denied to FBI agents that she knew who made the calls, but the caller was identified and stated to agents that Sypher had prompted him to make the February calls, told him details to recite, and provided Mr. Pitino’s cell phone number. Those calls resulted in a series of events in which Sypher demanded money from Pitino.

Sypher’s attorney arranged for her to voluntarily appear before United States Magistrate Judge Dave Whalin this afternoon at 3:30 pm for her initial appearance in federal court.

Acting United States Attorney Candace G. Hill praised the efforts of the FBI for its diligence and professionalism in investigating these matters. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are mindful of their responsibilities to protect victims, no matter who they are, from the criminal conduct of others.

In the event of a conviction on these charges, Sypher faces a potential penalty of two years’ imprisonment for the extortion charge and five years’ imprisonment on the false-statement charge; a $250,000.00 fine as to each charge; and supervised release for a period of not more than 3 years as to each charge. Assistant United States Attorney John E. Kuhn, Jr. is prosecuting the case.

A criminal Complaint is an accusation only and that person is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Rick Pitino also issued a statement today through his attorney, Steve Pence:

“Last week, my client, Coach Rick Pitino, issued a statement disclosing that he had reported an extortion attempt against himself and his family to the FBI. Today, the United States brought criminal charges against the perpetrator of this scheme. While Coach Pitino takes no comfort in this prosecution and remains astonished by these events, it marks a turning point that allows him to focus with a clear mind once again on his family and his team. Coach Pitino is grateful for the support so many people have shown him in recent days. Given that this is a federal criminal prosecution in which we are cooperating, I have directed Coach Pitino not to comment any further about this case.”

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