Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Pitino extortion trial goes ugly early
By Eamonn Brennan
On Monday, the two sides arguing Karen Sypher's extortion case -- Sypher's defense lawyers and a team of federal prosecutors -- met in a Louisville courtroom. Given the way the Sypher-Rick Pitino news has developed in the past year, this was always going to be a messy affair. It didn't disappoint. (Or, if you feel disgusted by the whole thing and were assuming it couldn't possibly get any grosser, it did.)
There were a couple of new items put forth by both sides, none of which make either person look good. Details about the nature of Sypher's extortion -- in which Sypher traded sexual favors with longtime friend Lester Goetzinger so Goetzinger would call Pitino and threaten him with extortion if Sypher's financial demands weren't met. There were also details about Pitino's alleged participation in the extortion scheme, in which he asked Sypher "what would make her life easier," according to FBI special agent Steven Wight.
Perhaps worst of all, the defense accused Pitino of threatening Sypher with "concrete shoes and a river" after she told him she was pregnant. As one fellow blogger put it last night: Egad.
All of that aside, I'm not hugely interested in the tawdry detail here. It's bad, sure, but it's nothing particularly worse than any of the fundamental things we already know about Pitino and Sypher's thoroughly screwed-up interactions. No one in this case is going to look good. Not the defendant, not the defendant's friends and associates, and certainly not Rick Pitino, who could take the stand as early as this afternoon.
More than anything, I'm interested in how this trial is going to affect Rick Pitino within Louisville in the near and long terms. You could reasonably argue that Pitino is Louisville's biggest celebrity. You would be hard-pressed to deny that this is Louisville's most charged criminal case involving such a high-profile celebrity in the past two decades. The case has everything -- a wealth of tawdry detail, a high-profile local celebrity, money, blackmail. Louisville is going to be locked in.
How long will the trial last? And the longer it goes on, does it get harder and harder for Rick Pitino to reclaim any semblance of his former status in the Louisville community? Does that matter? And just how much will all this affect Pitino's coaching? I hope those don't come off as leading questions; I honestly don't know the answers to any of them. As far as basketball is concerned, at least, those are the questions Pitino will eventually have to answer.