LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In Rick Pitino’s words, his equipment manager’s wife was welcomed into Louisville’s close-knit basketball family. Beneath the surface, however, was an explosive secret.
Pitino and Karen Sypher had sex at a restaurant eight months before she married the coach’s confidant, Tim Sypher. Over the next few years, the three attended the same parties, took basketball trips and tailgated together, despite Pitino’s past affair.
What happened over those years is a he-said, she-said story. Pitino recently denied to police Karen Sypher’s contention that he raped her, and authorities declined to prosecute her claims, citing a lack of evidence.
Pitino acknowledged giving her $3,000 after she said she was pregnant and was getting an abortion, but didn’t have health insurance. Pitino’s lawyer said the money was for insurance and he never paid for an abortion.
Pitino also told police Sypher didn’t display any strange behavior during all of the social events they attended together.
On Friday, though, Pitino’s attorney, Steve Pence, said Karen Sypher was “clearly disturbed and incapable of telling the truth.”
Karen Sypher, 49, was indicted in May on charges of extortion and lying to federal authorities. She has pleaded not guilty.
According to the complaint, Tim Sypher brought Pitino a written list of demands that eventually escalated to $10 million. Tim Sypher has not been charged and has voiced support for his boss. He and Karen are getting a divorce.
Karen Sypher has told police she first met her future husband in a fast-food parking lot, and followed him to his condo to meet Pitino to discuss her pregnancy a few weeks after they had sex.
She claimed Pitino sent Tim Sypher upstairs and the coach sexually assaulted her a second time, a claim the local prosecutors also found to be without evidence.
Karen Sypher has called Pitino, who has guided Louisville, Kentucky and Providence to the Final Four, a powerful man who “thinks he can do anything he wants to.” She told police that she believes the coach told her future husband to arrange the abortion and accompany her to the procedure. She thinks Pitino paid Tim Sypher to marry her.
For a while, she said Tim Sypher “showed me all the attention, did everything right” and the relationship blossomed. The couple married and have a 4-year-old daughter, though they are now going through a contentious custody battle.
She also has four sons from a previous marriage that ended in divorce about a year before the August 2003 restaurant encounter with Pitino.
In a police interview last month, Pitino said Karen Sypher “married into the UofL family.” The coach said during the social events, Karen Sypher never displayed any strange behavior.
Karen Sypher told police she hated being around Pitino. He would “come up and give me a hug. And I just, just cringe,” she told police.
The Syphers’ marriage is now headed toward divorce, and their ill will boiled over at a custody hearing this week in family court in Louisville.
Karen Sypher testified that her estranged husband drinks alcohol excessively, and acknowledged she hired private investigators to tail him during outings with their daughter.
In his testimony, Tim Sypher said he left his wife in March because of the extortion allegations.
“I was in shock, to be honest with you,” he said.
Tim Sypher also said Pitino puts money into a college fund for the Sypher’s daughter, Annabelle.
“He takes care of a lot of people in that way,” he said.
Tim Sypher’s mother, Joan Sypher, of Raynham, Mass., told The Associated Press in April that her son’s love of sports helped him land a job with Pitino.
“My son was not married or anything, and of course when you’re a driver for somebody you have to be available 24 hours, so that’s how he got the job,” she said.
Karen Sypher’s attorney, James Earhart, said more of the story will unfold.
“And at the proper time and the proper place, that will be dealt with,” he said.
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Aug. 13: Louisville Coach Rick Pitino publicly acknowledged that he had an affair with a woman years ago.
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