Crime

Benner inmate known as serial lawsuit filer suspected in fraudulent suit

Benner state prison has been housing a courthouse celebrity, but some people didn’t know it until a federal judge from Kentucky got involved.

According to The Associated Press, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn in Louisville alerted the warden at Benner that a lawsuit was filed by 54-year-old Karen Sypher.

Why would the warden care about that? Neither Benner nor sister prison Rockview houses women.

Heyburn says Sypher didn’t file the suit, AP’s story says.

According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, Sypher, 54, is an inmate at Aliceville federal prison, a women’s facility in Alabama. She is due to be released in July 2017. She was convicted of extortion against University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino.

But if she’s in Alabama, where does Benner come in?

Because that’s where court records show Jonathan Lee Riches was incarcerated as of March 2013.

The AP says Heyburn’s alert to Benner was about Riches, a man with a reputation for being a serial suit filer in courts and cases across America, who has apparently turned his talents to Sypher, filing an appeal in her case using two false names, without her consent.

“Heyburn wrote the warden at the state prison may want to investigate Riches’ recent activities,” the AP story said.

Fake names are nothing new for Riches. State records show a litany of aliases for him, including Jamie Dowling, Anthony Johnson, John Miller and Curt Teague. It was a stint as Jonathan Lanza, pretending to be Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza’s uncle in Newtown, that caught the attention of authorities and led to his return to jail, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. YouTube videos show Riches in Connecticut, against the terms of his release.

Federal records show Riches was released on April 30, 2012. He was arrested for the violation within eight months. Four months later, he was a resident of Centre County.

Within the past 10 years, he has filed a number of lawsuits against an eclectic array of unsuspecting opponents, like O.J. Simpson, former CNN news personality Lou Dobbs, pop star Christina Aguilera and action star Wesley Snipes. In others, he has filed cases with unknowing alleged co-plaintiffs, including Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

One such case circles back to Centre County.

A June 2012 suit shows a suspected alias of Riches, Jonathan Bollinger, suing Jerry Sandusky in Wisconsin.

This new lawsuit from Riches is just the latest in a series of incidents at the county’s two state prisons over the past year to draw attention.

It was one year ago this month that Rockview inmate Omar Best raped a clerical worker at the prison. He was convicted of that assault in May.

The survivor of that attack filed a lawsuit against the prison and the state Department of Corrections in April.

That was the second suit from an employee known to be filed since the attack. Counselor Melissa Reed filed a whistleblower suit in December, claiming she was penalized for expressing safety concerns.

That same month, a Benner inmate attacked several guards with a snow shovel. In May, after several delays, inmate Derrick Houdershield was removed from the courtroom at his preliminary hearing after denying the judge had any authority over him. The hearing went on without him; he was bound over for trial on four counts of aggravated assault, two counts of assault by a prisoner and one count of institutional vandalism.

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