Sypher indicted in Pitino extortion case - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Sypher indicted in Pitino extortion case

By Bennett Haeberle, WDRB-TV Fox 41 News

A federal grand jury returned an indictment Tuesday against Karen Sypher, the woman at the center of an alleged extortion plot involving UofL basketball coach Rick Pitino.

Sypher, who was initially charged last month, was indicted on two counts of extortion and making a false statement to a federal agent.

Court records show Sypher allegedly asked a family friend to make threatening phone calls to Pitino in February in an attempt to extort "millions of dollars" from the coach.

Sypher later admitted she lied to FBI agents about knowing the identity of that caller.

So far, Sypher has been the only person charged in the case. But an FBI spokesman told Fox 41 News more people could be charged.

Her attorney, Thomas Clay, called the indictment "a logical step in the prosecution."

"This has been a veritable rumor mill and I've heard some of the wildest rumors imaginable. I would not even consider gracing those with any kind of comment or creditability," said Sypher's attorney, Thomas Clay. 

Clay said his client is facing serious criminal charges and plans to plead not guilty during her arraignment on Wednesday afternoon.

A preliminary hearing initially set for Wednesday would have allowed Clay to cross-examine the FBI agents involved. Because the indictment supercedes the original charges, Clay will -- for now -- be prevented from questioning the feds.

"I think the United States is always interested in foreclosing efforts of discovery at any stage of the prosecution," he said.

The FBI says the extortion attempt stems from an encounter Sypher had with UofL Basketball Coach Rick Pitino in 2003.

Sypher is the estranged wife of UofL basketball equipment manager Tim Sypher.

The case truly began in February -- before Pitino contacted the FBI saying he had been the victim of an extortion attempt.

At that time in late February, an affidavit states Karen Sypher urged "an unknown man" to make calls to Pitino in an attempt to extort money.

That person was later identified by Sypher as Lester Goetzinger, a family friend.

On Monday, a Fox 41 News photographer spotted Goetzinger going into the federal courthouse. But what he might have said to the grand jury remains a secret. 

Goetzinger has been identified as the man who allegedly made threatening phone calls to Pitino's cell phone.

Pitino recorded the phone calls and later played them to authorities.

Goetzinger later told the FBI "Sypher asked him to make the calls during a critical period in the basketball season to increase the pressure on Pitino."

Sypher has made several claims about herself and Pitino which cannot be verified by this news organization.

Clay believes Sypher's claims can be used in her defense, but it's unclear if those claims will come out in open court.

"We don't know what course these proceedings are going to take. If we go to trial that is an issue that may come up."

An attorney for Goetzinger did not return a call seeking comment.

Pitino's attorney, Steve Pence, declined to say if his client had spoken to the grand jury, but added: "We are obviously cooperating with the authorities and are going to allow the process to take its course."

If convicted, Sypher could face a prison sentence of up to seven years and fines of $500,000.


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