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Posted: Tuesday May 12, 2009 2:17PM; Updated: Tuesday May 12, 2009 5:01PM

Woman indicted on charges she tried to extort Pitino

Story Highlights

Karen Sypher was indicted Tuesday on extortion charges

She allegedly tried to extort money from Louisville coach Rick Pitino

Sypher is the ex-wife of Louisville equipment manager Tim Sypher

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- The estranged wife of a longtime aide to Rick Pitino was indicted Tuesday on federal charges of trying to extort money from the Louisville men's basketball coach and lying to the FBI.

Karen Cunagin Sypher, 49, faces a combined maximum penalty of seven years in prison and a $500,000 fine if convicted of the two charges, federal authorities said. Sypher is the estranged wife of Louisville equipment manager Tim Sypher.

Karen Sypher's attorney, Thomas Clay, said she will plead not guilty during her arraignment Wednesday.

Last month, amid an FBI investigation, Karen Sypher said: "I'm standing up for my rights and feeling like I don't have a lot of them at this moment. I'm just waiting for the truth to come out."

The case became public last month when Pitino released a statement saying someone had tried to extort him. Pitino said he reported it to the FBI, and Karen Sypher surrendered to authorities a few days later when she was named in a criminal complaint.

Tim Sypher voiced support for Pitino in a recent statement. Divorce papers for the couple were recently filed. Tim Sypher served as Pitino's personal assistant with the Boston Celtics from 1997-2001, then followed Pitino to Louisville in 2001 to become the team's equipment manager.

The criminal complaint said Tim Sypher brought Pitino a written list of demands from his wife, including college tuition for her children, two cars, her house paid off and $3,000 per month. The demands later escalated to $10 million instead.

Authorities have not said what information Karen Sypher might have been trying to use to allegedly extort Pitino. They have said the coach believed it was related to an unspecified 2003 encounter with her.

Pitino has coached three different schools to the Final Four -- Louisville, Providence and Kentucky, where he won a national title. He also led the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks in the NBA.

A Louisville spokesman declined comment Tuesday, as did Pitino attorney Steve Pence.

Pitino said in a statement last month that he intended to "vigorously defend my reputation and the character of my family against any criminal scheme to extort money."

According to the criminal complaint written by FBI Special Agent Steven Wight, Pitino received two voicemail messages from a man who did not identify himself Feb. 26 and a third call on Feb. 28.

Pitino told Wight the first two concerned personal allegations that were "criminal in nature" and could harm the coach's reputation, while the third was a threat to make the allegations public in two weeks.

Wight noted in the complaint that the truth about the allegations against Pitino was "suspect." The allegations were left out of the criminal complaint.

Pitino signed a three-year contract extension with Louisville in May 2007 that could keep him at the school through 2013. The deal pays him an annual salary of $2.5 million a year if he stays until the end of the contract. He'll receive loyalty bonuses of $3.6 million in 2010 and 2013 if he remains with the school.

He has recently said there is no truth to rumors that he is returning to the NBA.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
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