Prosecutors: Woman accused of trying to extort Pitino had pattern

The prosecutors say Karen Sypher made false sexual harassment claims against a businessman nearly ten years ago.

FILE- In this April 24, 2009, file photo, Karen Cunagin Sypher, listens as her attorney speaks to the media outside Gene Snyder Courthouse following a court appearance in Louisville, Ky., Cunagin Sypher has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of trying to extort money from Rick Pitino and of lying to the FBI. (AP Photo/Brian Bohannon, File)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that a
Louisville woman charged with trying to extort money from
University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino had
made earlier, false claims of sexual harassment against a
businessman.
Prosecutors said in a court document that Sypher filed a sexual
harassment lawsuit against an auto glass business owner in 2001, a
case prosecutors say had similarities to the Pitino case.
In the earlier case, prosecutors say, Sypher had consensual sex
with the man, then was hired by him. She claimed to be pregnant
when he ended the relationship and sued the man after she was fired
a few months later, claiming sexual harassment.
Prosecutors alleged that the accusation was false. They made the
argument in a trial brief filed in U.S. District Court in
Louisville in advance of Sypher's trial on charges she attempted to
extort $10 million from Pitino, then lied to the FBI about it and
falsely accused Pitino of rape in retaliation for his reporting the
extortion attempt.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John E. Kuhn Jr. said in the brief the
earlier alleged extortion attempt, which did not result in criminal
charges, will be introduced at Sypher's trial, which starts July
26. Sypher has pleaded not guilty. She is accused of demanding
college tuition for her children, her house to be paid off and $10
million.
Sypher's attorney, James Earhart, was out of the office
Wednesday morning and unavailable for comment. He had not filed a
trial brief as of early Wednesday afternoon.
Under certain circumstances, prosecutors can introduce evidence
of other acts that wouldn't normally be allowed in a criminal
trial. Generally, those prior acts are admissible as a means to
show motive, opportunity, intent or planning.
In comparing the civil suit and the Pitino case, Kuhn wrote, the
"similarities are striking, and evince a common motive, scheme,
pattern, intent and plan."
Sypher is accused of having a consensual sexual encounter with
Pitino in 2003 at a Louisville restaurant, something the coach has
admitted to. About three weeks later, prosecutors say, Sypher
approached Pitino saying she was pregnant. That pregnancy was ended
by an abortion, prosecutors said.
Six years later, prosecutors say, Sypher sought money from
Pitino, threatened to accuse him of rape if he didn't pay up and
hired an attorney to pursue the claim.
"If all is accepted, I will protect Rick Pitino's name for
life," prosecutors quote Sypher as saying.
Pitino reported the alleged extortion attempt to the FBI in the
spring of 2009, resulting in Sypher's arrest in April. Sypher went
to Louisville Metro Police in June and accused Pitino of rape.
Police declined to pursue the case and state prosecutors dismissed
the allegation as lacking evidence.
Sypher filed a civil case in 2001 against Auto Glass and More,
Inc., and the company owner Leonard LeGrande, who has since died.
Sypher worked for Auto Glass and More as a sales representative for
more than six months in 2000 and 2001.
LeGrande and one of his employees said she was fired for low
sales. The suit was settled in 2002. No terms were released.
Sypher, then known as Karen Wise, accused LeGrande of making
multiple inappropriate sexual advances in a suit filed after she
was fired.
In depositions taken in 2002, LeGrande said he and Sypher had
consensual sex on an overnight trip to Atlanta not long after they
met, then again at the business just before she was hired. LeGrande
said he broke off the relationship after his fiancee found out
about it.
LeGrande recounted how he and Sypher met in a viaduct near the
business around Christmas 2000 when Sypher said she was pregnant.
"You didn't ask whether it was your baby?" Sypher's attorney,
Mikell Grafton Skinner, asked.
"No. Because she is dating another guy and she was married; and
she was trying to insinuate it was my baby," LeGrande said in his
deposition.
LeGrande said Sypher never specifically said the baby was his.
LeGrande said Sypher later told him she ended the pregnancy.
LeGrande said Sypher called him repeatedly for nearly two months.
Another employee, Greg Rose, said in a deposition that LeGrande
ended the relationship with Sypher after she was hired and did not
harass her.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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