Pitino takes witness stand in extortion case | NevadaAppeal.com
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Pitino takes witness stand in extortion case

LOUISVILLE, Ky (AP) – A woman accused of demanding millions to stay quiet about a tryst with Rick Pitino initiated the sex by whispering to him and unzipping his pants when he got up to leave an empty Italian restaurant, he testified Wednesday.

The Louisville coach’s testimony marked the first time he’s talked publicly in detail about his July 2003 encounter with Karen Cunagin Sypher, the meeting that led to her trial this week on extortion charges. Pitino’s portrayal of Sypher as the aggressor came after several witnesses said she was flirty and persistent when she approached Pitino at the restaurant.

Pitino obliged her request to say happy birthday to her son on her cell phone. When she returned later, Pitino said, he bought her a drink. They lingered to talk after the restaurant had closed and the owner had gone home.

As he got up from the table, the married father of five said Sypher whispered something.

“Some unfortunate things happened,” Pitino said. “She opened up my pants.”

“Did you have sex that night?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa Ford asked.

“Yes, very briefly,” said Pitino, who wore a dark suit with a white shirt and red tie. The two have said they had sex at the table.

Sypher, 50, was sitting a few feet away but appeared unfazed by Pitino’s testimony.

Sypher is charged with extortion, asking for cash, cars and a house to stay quiet about the sex. She has pleaded not guilty, claiming Pitino sexually assaulted her. Police and prosecutors have said her assault claim lacked merit.

Pitino, 57, will return to the witness stand today.

Pitino said after he and Sypher left the restaurant together, she asked for basketball tickets. Pitino agreed and made the arrangements.

A few weeks later, Sypher, then known as Karen Wise, said she was pregnant.

“I didn’t believe at the time it was my child,” Pitino said.

. “She said she didn’t know what she was going to do.”

Sypher said she had no health insurance, Pitino said, so he offered $3,000. He thought the money was for counseling and medical needs but Sypher later said she had an abortion, Pitino said.

Less than a year later, Pitino’s assistant, Tim Sypher, married Karen Wise.

Threats to reveal the fling came nearly six years after it took place, Pitino said.

On Feb. 26, 2009, he listened to a cell phone message of a man’s voice describing details of the encounter at the restaurant and calling it a violent assault, Pitino told the jury.

“He mentioned the word rape. I got very sick to my stomach,” Pitino said. He said he felt threatened and frightened.

Sypher, speaking briefly to reporters as she left the courthouse, said: “I’m stronger than ever and waiting for my day.”

Jurors earlier heard testimony from Lester Goetzinger of Louisville, who acknowledged making the calls in exchange for sexual favors from Sypher.

Pitino also testified he received a handwritten note from Sypher in March 2009 that asked for cars, housing and money.

Jurors also heard an hour-long recording Sypher secretly made of a meeting with Pitino. Pitino is heard repeatedly asking Sypher who made the calls and how someone would have known details of their 2003 encounter.

Sypher never accuses Pitino of rape. She complains that her husband does little to make her life better.