LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Jurors in the extortion trial of Karen Cunagin Sypher on Tuesday watched an interview she gave to a local TV station describing an alleged sexual assault by University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino.
Federal prosecutors say Sypher made the allegation in April 2009 in retaliation for Pitino contacting the FBI about threatening phone calls he received in February 2009.
The interview with WDRB-TV was never broadcast and was seen publicly for the first time in Sypher’s federal trial on charges of extortion, lying to the FBI and retaliating against a witness.
Sypher said Pitino assaulted her in July 2003 after closing time at Porcini, an Italian restaurant in Louisville.
“It didn’t last long. It seemed like hours for me,” said Sypher, appearing to cry, although no tears were visible on the video. “All he said was shut up, shut up and be quiet.”
In July 2009, Sypher filed a police report accusing Pitino of rape. Police and prosecutors dismissed the complaint as lacking evidence.
Sypher, 50, is accused of demanding $10 million, college tuition for her children and her house to be paid off in exchange for her silence about her encounter with Pitino.
Pitino, who has acknowledged a consensual sexual encounter with Sypher at the restaurant, was not in court as jurors watched the video. Pitino’s attorney said the coach could testify Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kuhn said Monday in court that Sypher traded sexual favors to have a man make phone calls in February 2009 threatening to expose Pitino’s fling with Sypher and to have an attorney send a letter demanding money or he would be accused in a lawsuit of rape.
Prosecutors are using the video and plan to call a reporter from another Louisville television station to testify as they attempt to prove Sypher publicized the rape allegation because Pitino would not meet her demands for money, cars and a house.
In opening statements, prosecutors showed jurors a letter signed by Sypher saying: “If all is accepted, I will protect Rick Pitino’s name for life.”
On the video, Sypher at times appeared to become emotional when talking about the rape allegations, but quickly stopped to answer the next question. At other times, she appeared defiant, telling the station she “had nothing to lose.”
Sypher claimed Pitino forcibly undressed her, then pushed her down before forcing himself on her.
“I said, ‘What are you doing? What’s going on? I don’t want this’,” Sypher said. “I don’t know why I was afraid. I was afraid of this powerful man.”
“Was there any way he could have misunderstood?” WDRB-TV anchor Candyce Clifft asked Sypher.
“No. No. No. Absolutely no. I was raped,” Sypher answered.
In the interview Sypher said she became pregnant during the encounter. When she told Pitino, she says he ordered her to keep quiet and threatened Sypher and her family.
Sypher said Pitino later forced her to have an abortion. Pitino has said he gave Sypher $3,000 for medical insurance, not an abortion.
Prosecutors edited the tape to remove comments made by Sypher’s son, Jacob Wise, who is expected to testify later in the trial.
Also Tuesday, a longtime friend and sometime sexual partner of Sypher described for jurors three threatening phone calls he made to Pitino in February 2009.Lester Goetzinger, a gas service technician for LG&E, told jurors Sypher asked him to make the calls after the two had a sexual encounter.
In the calls, which were played for the jury, Goetzinger told Pitino he would make public allegations that the coach raped Sypher and forced her to have an abortion unless he did “the right thing.”
“I’m not out to get money,” Goetzinger said on Pitino’s voice mail. “I don’t want no part of that.”
Goetzinger said he made the calls after Sypher, who he has known for more than 15 years, told a story of being raped twice by Pitino and being forced to have an abortion. The first calls were made Feb. 26, 2009, after a sexual liaison, Goetzinger said.
“Did you want to make those calls?” Kuhn asked.
“No, but she begged me,” Goetzinger said.
Jurors also heard a tape of a call Sypher made on behalf of the FBI to Goetzinger. Sypher, who told Pitino she didn’t know the source of the calls, left a message on Goetzinger’s voice mail.
“Lester, it’s Karen. It’s important that I talk to you to find out what to do about those phone calls that you made,” Sypher said on the recording on April 17, 2009.
Goetzinger testified that he met with the FBI later that night and confessed his role in the plot.
FBI special agent Mike Schafer said Sypher appeared to know more than she let on about who made the calls to Pitino. During the April 17, 2009 interview at the FBI office in downtown Louisville, Sypher denied knowing who made the calls, then gave investigators an incorrect name, Schafer said.
“Did you believe her?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa Ford.
“I did not,” Schafer responded. “I did not believe she was being truthful.”
Prosecutors closed the day with a series of witnesses testifying about the early part of the evening of July 31, 2003 at Porcini — the time leading up to when Sypher and Pitino met. Melissa Brent, a bartender at Porcini that night, told jurors that Sypher left the restaurant, then returned and tried to join Pitino’s group as the restaurant emptied.
“She stayed there with him,” Brent said.
Under questioning by Earhart, Brent could not recall what customers were in the restaurant on any other specific night, what they were wearing or what other nights Pitino and his associates dined at Porcini and stayed after the restaurant closed.
Pitino has coached at Louisville since 2001, a job he took after leaving the NBA’s Boston Celtics, where Sypher’s estranged husband, Tim Sypher, served as special assistant to Pitino. Tim Sypher continued to work for Pitino as Louisville’s men’s basketball equipment manager, according to the school’s website, but has recently been named director of the Yum Center, the building that houses offices and training facilities for Louisville’s men’s basketball team.
Tim and Karen Sypher are in the midst of a divorce. They have a young daughter together.
———Associated Press Sports Writer Will Graves contributed to this story.