Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
By BRETT BARROUQUERELOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—Rick Pitino never said a woman who claimed the Louisville basketball coach got her pregnant after a one-night stand had to get an abortion but did advise she “go out of town” to get medical care, his longtime aide told a jury Friday.
The aide, Tim Sypher, was testifying against the woman, his ex-wife Karen Cunagin Sypher. He testified about helping her get an abortion at her extortion trial. The two divorced after she was indicted last year on charges of demanding cash and gifts worth millions from Pitino to keep secret their 2003 tryst on a restaurant table.
Tim Sypher, 49, testified that he called clinics in Indiana and Ohio before taking the woman, then known as Karen Wise, to Cincinnati, where she terminated the pregnancy on Aug. 29, 2003. Tim Sypher said he paid for the procedure from $3,000 Pitino gave to Karen Sypher for medical care.
“I just figured it was a good thing to do, go out of town,” Tim Sypher said. “Yeah, he (Pitino) said go out of town.”
Pitino, married and Roman Catholic, has said he intended for the money to be used for medical insurance, not an abortion. The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to abortion.
Karen Sypher, 50, has pleaded not guilty. After she was indicted, she told police Pitino raped her, but authorities didn’t pursue charges.
Tim Sypher, who has worked for Pitino in various capacities since 1996, told jurors the coach called him on Aug. 23, 2003, and asked to use his condo to meet with a woman about a “supposed pregnancy.” That meeting took place just less than a month after Pitino and Sypher had sex after hours at Porcini, an Italian restaurant where they met a few hours earlier.
As Pitino and Sypher met downstairs, Tim Sypher said, he waited for about an hour in an upstairs bedroom.
“In a situation like that, you know, I just wanted the day over with,” Tim Sypher said. “I heard nothing.”
Defense attorney James Earhart asked Tim Sypher why Pitino called him, then a single 43-year-old, to take care of a pregnant woman.
“This is a situation that is potentially devastating to Rick Pitino, let’s be honest,” Earhart said. “This doesn’t need to come out.”
“True,” Tim Sypher said. “… If he hadn’t asked me, who then?”
Six days after the meeting at the condo, Tim Sypher drove Karen Sypher to a women’s clinic in Cincinnati, where she had an abortion. Jurors saw records from the clinic on Thursday indicating she was about 5 weeks pregnant. As Karen came out of the clinic, Tim Sypher said he extended his hand, prompting “a look I’ll never forget.”
“Sir, I’m not lying to you. We hit it off. It was quick,” Tim Sypher testified. “I’m not lying to you, I’m not lying to anybody here. We clicked.”
Once back in Louisville, Karen Sypher asked if she could see Tim Sypher again. The two began dating and were married less than a year later. Over the next five years, Karen Sypher attended functions around Pitino without problems, Tim Sypher said.
Tim and Karen Sypher had given each other nicknames drawn from the movie “Driving Miss Daisy,” Tim Sypher said. She was “Daisy,” while he was the driver, “Hoke.”
“Every time you make reference to her as Daisy and you as Hoke, you are resurrecting memories of the trip to get an abortion,” Earhart said.
“You might have looked at it that way, but it was just pet names,” Tim Sypher said.
By 2007, the marriage deteriorated, Tim Sypher said. Then, on Feb. 26, 2009, Pitino received two anonymous calls threatening to expose the one-night stand and accuse the coach of rape. Pitino sent a text message that said “red alert,” then called, asking for a meeting with Karen Sypher, Tim Sypher said.
“When you get red alert, something serious is going on,” Tim Sypher said. “I didn’t know what to think. I just waited for the next step.”
Jurors earlier in the week heard from Lester Goetzinger, a longtime friend and sometime sexual partner of Karen Sypher. Goetzinger said he made the calls after receiving sexual favors from Karen Sypher. He testified as part of a deal with prosecutors.
The meeting failed to produce answers about who made the calls, Tim Sypher said. Tim Sypher said Karen Sypher started making several demands when they met on March 6, 2009, days after Pitino received a third phone call.
“It got to a point of, ‘What do you want? What do you want?”’ Tim Sypher said. “She started blabbing all these things.”
He said he told her to write down what she wanted because he couldn’t remember all of it. He delivered the letter to Pitino that evening but said he didn’t know what was in it.
“Before I handed it to him, I was thinking about ripping it up because I knew how crazy she was,” Tim Sypher said.
Karen Sypher’s former attorney, Dana Kolter, also testified Friday, telling jurors he and Sypher had sexual relations three times before he wrote a letter to Pitino on March 22, 2009, demanding $10 million and threatening to file a lawsuit accusing Pitino of rape and forced abortion.
Kolter said Karen Sypher seemed believable, despite inconsistencies in her story.
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.