Men's Basketball

Not-guilty plea in extortion case

LOUISVILLE - A woman accused of trying to extort millions of dollars from University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino pleaded not guilty Wednesday. Later, surrounded by supporters on the courthouse steps, she defiantly announced she “will not break.”

Karen Cunagin Sypher was mostly silent at her arraignment but proclaimed her innocence to reporters afterward. Her attorney indicated that he might seek a change of venue because of extensive publicity.

Sypher’s arraignment came one day after her indictment on federal charges of trying to extort money from Pitino and lying to the FBI. A criminal complaint last month claimed that her demands included college tuition for her children, two cars, her house to be paid off and $3,000 a month.

The demands later escalated to $10 million, according to the complaint.

Sypher, the estranged wife of a longtime Pitino aide, told reporters that the charges had created “a very dark cloud” for her family, which she called “very unjust to me, very unfair.”

Seemingly bolstered by her supporters, Sypher said she was prepared to see the case through to “the very end,” then added: “I will not break.”

“Justice will prevail,” she said. “Yes, yes. I have to believe in the justice system. I have to.”

Sypher, 49, remains free on her own recognizance. Her trial was scheduled for June 29.

When Sypher was charged last month, the former UK coach’s attorney, Steve Pence, said in a statement that the coach “takes no comfort in this prosecution and remains astonished by these events.” Pence said Wednesday that no further statement would be made.

Kenny Klein, spokesman for Louisville athletics, also declined to comment.

The estranged wife of Louisville equipment manager Tim Sypher was greeted outside the courthouse by eight supporters. They held hand-made signs with sayings including “Money = Power” and “Leave Karen Sypher Alone.” Sypher, accompanied by two of her sons, hugged the group of family and friends, who accompanied her to the courtroom.

Sypher’s attorney, Thomas Clay, entered the not guilty plea on her behalf.

She could face a maximum of seven years in prison and a $500,000 fine if convicted of both charges.

Clay said after the hearing that Sypher’s version will eventually be heard. He said he will consider filing a ­motion to move the trial out of Louisville.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader