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Ex-Arizona coach Rodriguez claims former assistant tried to extort him

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez before an NCAA college football game against Stanford, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX — Former Arizona Wildcats football coach Rich Rodriguez claims his former assistant, who filed a claim of $7.5 million accusing him of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, did so as an extortion attempt.

Rodriguez’s attorneys filed a response notice of claim on Monday that said Melissa Wilhelmsen, her husband, and lawyer Augustine Jimenez threatened Rodriguez with phone calls on Nov. 2 and 4 of 2017. An email from Jimenez attached to the claim was sent on Nov. 8 and said it would take “multiple million dollars” for a resolution to be found.

In the claim sent to the Arizona attorney general, Rodriguez’s lawyers said all of the allegations were false.

Wilhelmsen’s lawyer submitted a demand of $7.5 million on Dec. 10 and listed the final deadline for a payment as Dec. 26, the day before Rodriguez was to coach the Wildcats in the Foster Farms Bowl.

Rodriguez coached Arizona in the game. He was fired on Jan. 2 after news of the claim against him broke.

In Rodriguez’s claim of extortion filed this week, his lawyers listed the allegations against him and gave defenses with witness accounts and evidence.

Among the rebuffed claims:

— Wilhelmsen cited Rodriguez’s “Hideaway Book” as a source of secrecy and deception in her claim. Rodriguez’s lawyers submitted an older version of the book, which they said is titled as such because he presents the books to staff members at preseason retreats. The book presented in Rodriguez’s claim includes job descriptions for all football staffers and lacks any language that says “Title IX doesn’t exist,” as Wilhelmsen claimed.

— Text messages between the Rodriguez family, including his daughter and wife, showed a supportive relationship between the Rodriguez family and Wilhelmsen.

— Rodriguez was accused of multiple instances of harassment. He defended the claims with a polygraph test in which he was asked “Did you ever have sexual contact with Melissa?”, “Did you every touch Melissa for sexual purposes?” and “Did you ever expose your genitals to Melissa?” He answered “no” on those accounts and there was “no deception indicated” by the test. An independent quality control review of those results found “no deception.”

— A text message that Wilhelmsen’s attorney said showed Rodriguez’s infatuation with her has not yet been produced on record by her lawyer.

— Wilhelmsen claimed Rodriguez held a closed-door meeting with her while touching his privates, but the coach’s attorney filed pictures and staff accounts suggesting his transparent office door and open-door policy did not create a hostile work environment.

— Rodriguez denied that, as Wilhelmsen claimed, he was told about something being wrong with football player Zach Hemmila and Rodriguez ignoring a request to get Hemmila help before the offensive lineman was found dead — it was determined to be a painkiller overdose, according to an autopsy. Rodriguez’s attorney writes that none of Wilhelmsen’s false claims are “more cruel and despicable.”

— Rodriguez, who upon the claim against him admitted to an extramarital affair, denied that his wife, Rita, cornered Wilhelmsen in an office and two other times time took her to lunch demanding to know more about her husband’s relationships with another woman.

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