Wild forward Thomas Vanek was allegedly the victim of an extortion attempt as a result of gambling debts that at one time may have exceeded $10 million.
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle has reported that bookmaker Joseph Ruff—who pleaded guilty in federal court on Friday to illegal gambling, an extortion conspiracy and a money-laundering conspiracy—admitted to extorting $230,000 from Vanek as a partial payment of the players’ gambling losses. After Ruff’s plea, his attorney, Matthew Parrinello, said that Vanek had owed more of $10 million.
The target of Ruff’s extortion plot was not identified in court, but Democrat and Chronicle writer Gary Craig reports that Parrinello has since said that it was Vanek.
Vanek reportedly owed Ruff money after placing bets on football and basketball games (there is no evidence that he bet on NHL games). Parrinello characterized the former Sabres star’ gambling performance as “not very good.”
In October it was revealed that Vanek had endorsed paycheck from the Islanders in the amount of $230,000 over to Ruff.
According to Parinello, Vanek was not threatened with physical harm in the extortion scheme. Instead, Ruff had told the player that he himself would be hurt if payment wasn't made.
Vanek, who faces no charges as a result of the long investigation into Ruff's bookmaking empire, has said that he no longer gambles.
His agent, Steve Bartlett, has refuted the $10 million claim as a complete fabrication.