Crime

Trial likely in case involving Pitino affair

Karen Sypher hasn't been able to reach a plea agreement with prosecutors and probably will go to trial on charges involving her alleged extortion of University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino, her attorney said Tuesday after Sypher entered a not-guilty plea

"We've had discussions; we will continue to have them," said James Earhart, Sypher's attorney. "But it doesn't look like it's going to be a situation that's going to work itself out."

Sypher did not speak during the hearing. Earhart said no trial date has been set.

Pitino declined to comment on the case at his news briefing Tuesday.

The bizarre case has had a number of unusual twists and turns. And federal statistics confirm what a number of former prosecutors have said — that the retaliation charge against Sypher, with whom Pitino had an extramarital affair in 2003, is not seen in federal court often.

Prosecutors have criminally charged Sypher with retaliating against Pitino by accusing him of rape after he told federal authorities that she tried to extort money from him.

Nationwide, only 60 defendants have been charged with retaliation against a witness since July 1, 2008. Only 45 defendants were charged nationally with that crime in the previous year, according to U.S. Department of Justice figures.

"I've never seen that charge," said Matt Whitaker, who was a U.S. Attorney in Iowa for more than five years.

When the charge is used, it often involves physical threats, such as the case of a South Dakota woman charged in November with retaliating against a witness by threatening bodily injury.

Earhart, a former U.S. Attorney, said he knew of one other defendant who was charged with retaliation for allegedly harming a person's reputation. He said that defendant was acquitted.

Louisville prosecutors declined to comment on the Sypher case Tuesday.

Sypher was indicted by a federal grand jury in May on charges of extortion and lying to the FBI. In November, a superseding indictment charged her with extortion, lying to FBI agents and retaliating against a victim and a witness.

Prosecutors allege that in February, Sypher "made threats to injure the reputation of University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino and to accuse him of a crime."

She told Louisville police that Pitino raped her, an allegation he denied.

Police declined to file charges against Pitino, saying Sypher was not credible.

Pitino told the FBI that he and Sypher had consensual sex in a restaurant after hours one night in 2003. He said he then gave her money for health insurance that she used for an abortion. Earlier this year, Pitino told authorities that Sypher tried to extort $10 million from him.

Because the new charges were filed so recently, Earhart said, the effect probably will be that the trial will be after the 2009-10 basketball season.

The charges alleging she lied to the FBI center on statements attributed to Sypher that her relationship with a subject of the extortion investigation was "strictly business." The grand jury charged that Sypher had an "intimate personal relationship" with the person.

Sypher's longtime friend Lester Goetzinger agreed to testify against her. In exchange, prosecutors cleared his record of charges against him.

Prosecutors said Goetzinger left three voice-mail messages on Pitino's cell phone from Feb. 26 to 28 at Sypher's request. Goetzinger's attorney, John Berry of Louisville, has said Sypher traded sexual favors in exchange for the calls.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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