Can Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino survive another scandal that’s rocked his men’s basketball program?
That’s the question after the U.S. Department of Justice announced charges against 10 men who conspired to bribe the families of top-tier recruits into committing to their respective universities. While Louisville wasn’t directly mentioned in the indictment, the timeline and description of the school match up and it announced Tuesday it found out it’s under federal investigation.
Pitino released a statement via his lawyer Steve Pence hours after the allegations were announced.
“These allegations come as a complete shock to me,” Pitino said in the statement. “If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville.
According to federal investigators, several assistants at Louisville knew of a scheme where the school’s apparel sponsor, Adidas, paid a top recruit $100,000 to commit to the school. Court documents allege the same group tried to lure another recruit, part of the Class of 2018, to come to the school with hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This isn’t the first time Pitino’s dealt with the aftermath of a scandal. Pitino announced in 2009 that he was the victim of an extortion attempt in relation to a sex scandal.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A Mistress Tried to Extort Millions of Dollars & Was Federally Charged for It
On April 18, 2009, http://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/news/story?id=4080340Pitino announced he was getting extorted by the wife of a Louisville equipment manager. On April 24, Karen Cunagin Sypher, the wife of Tim Sypher, was charged in federal court with extortion and lying to federal agents.
Pitino said he reported threats from Karen Sypher and the F.B.I launched an investigation into the matter. The longtime coach said he didn’t want to go public with the matter, but decided to after a news organization was questioning it.
“I recently learned that the individual behind this extortion attempt has already gone to the media with false, defamatory and outrageous allegations in an attempt to pressure me to cave in to this scheme,” Pitino said in a statement.
Sources told ESPN.com that Pitino received threatening phone calls in February 2009 from Sypher and “possibly others” and the calls continued in the weeks that followed. Finally, Pitino contacted authorities in late March.
According to Tim Sypher, the two were in the process of getting a divorce, and he issued a statement of his own saying he was “devastated” by the “bizarre” allegations Karen is making against Pitino and himself.
“At this point, my primary concern is for my young daughter and four stepsons, both to the impact of their mother’s actions on them, as well as the impact on Coach’s family and the university,” Tim said. “I love my children, and want to protect them,” the statement said. “At the same time, I intend to defend the allegations vigorously and will have no additional comment at this time.”
Pitino and Sypher had a sexual relationship that dated back to July 2003, and Pitino accused her of making demands such as cash, cars and a house to stay quiet about the affair.
2. Pitino Apologized Publicly & Said His Family Was Going Through ‘Pure Hell’
Petino’s character took a hit following the trial, but he remained on as the Louisville coach. He took the podium and publicly apologized to fans and his family for his indiscretions and vowed to remain coaching.
“I’ve been blackmailed seven months ago and these allegations were proven false,” Petino said. “I’m asking all university fans because enough is enough and everybody is tired of it. We need to get on with the important things in life like the economy and really some crucial things in life like basketball and I’m asking all university fans that if any of you put this on the news any more, if you’re fans of anything we’ve accomplished just change the channel. And if the newspapers want to write about it, just read something else.”
Petino said that the ordeal was “pure hell” for his wife and his family.
3. Pitino Testified During the Trial & Admitted to Paying for Her to Have an Abortion
Pitino testified in the Sypher’s extortion trial and spoke about the sexual relationship the two had. He said that the sex was initiated by Sypher, who “whispered” to him and unzipped his pants when he got up to leave an empty Italian restaurant.
Several witnesses at the trial accused Sypher of being “flirty” as she approached the coach at the restaurant. Pitino reportedly agreed to wish her son a happy birthday and she came back to the restaurant later, with Pitino buying her a drink. After speaking for some time inside the restaurant and after the owner left, Pitino admitted to wrongdoing at the restaurant.
“Some unfortunate things happened,” Pitino said, later admitting to having sex with Sypher “very briefly” for only 15 seconds or so.
After a few weeks, Sypher told Pitino she was pregnant and wanted an abortion but didn’t have health insurance. Pitino paid her $3,000 to have an abortion, but
Sypher pleaded not guilty to the charges and claimed that Pitino sexually assaulted her, but authorities said her claims lacked evidence.
4. Sypher Was Found Guilty & Sentenced to Over 7 Years in Prison
In 2011, Sypher a jury deliberated for over five hours over the course of two days and found her was guilty on six of the counts.
“Sypher seemed not to show any emotion as the verdict was read,” WDRB News reported. She was sentenced to serve seven years and three months inside a federal prison in Alabama for the extortion charges. Sypher and her attorneys appealed the verdicts, but lost.
In the years that followed, she applied for early release, claiming she had “exceptional remorse” regarding her offenses.
Earlier this year in February, Sypher became one step closer to freedom as she was moved from the federal prison to a halfway house somewhere in Kentucky.
In late July, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported Sypher’s sentence expired. She still must serve two years of supervised release, meaning she needs to get permission to leave the area.
5. Parties With Strippers & Prostitutes Also Took Place Within Pitino’s Program
The extortion case wasn’t the only sexual-related thing Pitino’s basketball program was involved in. In 2015, five former basketball players told ESPN’s Outside the Lines they attended parties on campus from 2010 to 2014 that included strippers and prostitutes that were paid for by Pitino’s graduate assistant coach, Andre McGee.
“It was like I was in a strip club,” one recruit said.
The claims came to light after a book published by escort Katina Powell told the story about how she had been to over 20 stripping and sex parties at a campus dorm between 2010 and 2014.
Pitino later said he was completely unaware that such parties were going on under his watch and the NCAA accepted his statement.
Louisville announced self-imposed sanctions in 2016 against the men’s basketball program and the NCAA followed it up in June 2017 with a punishment of its own. Pitino was set to be suspended for the first five games of the 2017-18 season’s ACC play and the program was ordered to forfeit numerous victories.
The school said it would be appealing the decision by the NCAA to hand down such penalties.
“We believe the penalties imposed today are unfair to the U of L community and our current and former student-athletes, many of whom have already paid a heavy price for actions that did not involve them,” Louisville acting president Greg Postel said in the statement. “This ruling is also unfair to Coach Pitino, who we believe could not have known about the illicit activities.”