LOUISVILLE — Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that a Louisville woman charged with trying to extort money from University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino had made earlier, false claims of sexual harassment against a businessman.
Prosecutors said in a court document that Karen Cunagin Sypher filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against an auto glass business owner in 2001, a case prosecutors say had similarities to the Pitino case.
In the earlier case, prosecutors say, Sypher had consensual sex with the man and then was hired by him. She claimed to be pregnant when he ended the relationship, and she sued the man after she was fired a few months later, claiming sexual harassment.
Prosecutors alleged the accusation was false. They made the argument in a trial brief filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville in advance of Sypher's trial on charges she attempted to extort $10 million from Pitino, then lied to the FBI about it and falsely accused Pitino of rape in retaliation for his reporting the extortion attempt.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John E. Kuhn Jr. said in the brief that the earlier alleged extortion attempt, which did not result in criminal charges, will be introduced at Sypher's trial, which starts July 26. Sypher has pleaded not guilty. She is accused of demanding college tuition for her children, her house to be paid off and $10 million.
Sypher's attorney, James Earhart, was out of the office Wednesday morning and unavailable for comment. He had not filed a trial brief as of early Wednesday afternoon.
In comparing the civil suit and the Pitino case, Kuhn wrote, the "similarities are striking, and evince a common motive, scheme, pattern, intent and plan."
Sypher filed the civil case in 2001 against Auto Glass and More, Inc., and the company owner Leonard LeGrande, who has since died. Sypher worked for Auto Glass and More as a sales representative for more than six months in 2000 and 2001.
LeGrande and one of his employees said she was fired for low sales. The suit was settled in 2002. No terms were released.
Sypher, then known as Karen Wise, accused LeGrande of making multiple inappropriate sexual advances in a suit filed after she was fired. In depositions taken in 2002, LeGrande said he and Sypher had consensual sex on an overnight trip to Atlanta not long after they met, then again at the business just before she was hired. LeGrande said he broke off the relationship after his fiancée found out about it.