Crime

Rick Pitino extortionist Karen Sypher moved to halfway house, one step closer to freedom

University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino and Karen Sypher.
University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino and Karen Sypher. AP file photos

Karen Cunagin Sypher is one step closer to freedom.

Sypher, who was sentenced in 2011 to seven years and three months in prison for trying to extort cash, cars and a house from University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, has been moved from a federal prison in Alabama to a halfway house, presumably in or near Louisville, The Courier Journal reported.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Prison locater, Sypher is now assigned to the Residential Reentry Management field office in Nashville, which runs halfway houses in several cities, including Louisville.

Federal prisoners generally serve their last six months at a halfway house in the community where they will be released, BOP spokesman Justin Long said last month. Their exact location is not released, he said.

After a sensational eight-day trial, Sypher was convicted of lying to the FBI, retaliating against a witness and extortion for trying to force Pitino to give her money and other items in exchange for her silence on her allegations that he raped her twice in 2003, including once at a Louisville restaurant.

She didn’t report the alleged rapes until six years later, after she was charged with extortion, and Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Stengel later ruled that her allegations were without merit. Pitino acknowledged that he’d had sex once with Sypher, at the Porcini restaurant, but that it was consensual.

U.S. District Judge Charles R. Simpson III rejected her bid last year to serve the last 12 months of her sentence in a halfway house. Her release date is July 28.

Sypher, 56, said in a motion that she has “expressed exceptional remorse and contrition regarding her commission of her offenses,” but that would seem to be contradicted by a book she co-wrote in 2012, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” in which she continued to profess her innocence.

In the book, subtitled “The Karen Sypher Story,” she complained that Pitino is “puffing away on his Cuban cigars and drinking his bourbon” while she eats “canned spinach” in prison. She also asserted that government protected Pitino by falsely portraying her as the “biggest prostitute in Louisville” who accomplished everything “on an office floor ... or restaurant table.”

In a statement after the book was published, Pitino’s lawyer, Steve Pence, said she was “a convicted felon repeating the same lies that a federal jury unanimously rejected. The commonwealth’s attorney reached the same conclusion. Despite the verdict, from behind prison bars she continues to seek and find forums to peddle her delusional story.”

Pence did not immediately respond Saturday to requests for comments about Sypher’s reassignment to a halfway house or impending release, and university athletics spokesman Kenny Klein said Pitino has no response. Her family did not respond last month to requests for comment.

Federal prisoners finishing their sentences in a halfway house are sometimes released on home incarceration, although Louisville attorney Kent Wicker, who practices in federal court, said that’s rare.

For now, Sypher is in what the Bureau of Prisons calls a residential re-entry center, which it says provides “a safe, structured, supervised environment, as well as employment counseling, job placement, financial management assistance, and other programs and services.”

The agency said on its website that in-house counts are conducted throughout the day at scheduled and random intervals and that inmates are authorized to leave only for approved activities, such as seeking employment, working, counseling, visiting or recreation purposes.

During the approved activity, it said, the inmate’s location and movements are constantly monitored, and staff might visit or call them at any time. In addition, when the inmate returns, they may be given a random drug and alcohol test.

Most offenders are expected to be employed 40 hours a week and to find jobs within 15 calendar days after their arrival. Sypher was assigned to a federal prison camp in Aliceville, Ala., until last week.

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