The issue of Minnesota Wild forward Thomas Vanek’s alleged involvement in a busted gambling syndicate has taken another twist. The Democrat & Chronicle reports that federal investigators are looking into the possibility of Vanek being targeted for extortion by members of a gambling ring he owed money to.
Vanek admitted that he paid $230,000 to partly cover his gambling debts stemming from bets he made in the NFL. But sources close to the investigation told the Democrat & Chronicle that the payment Vanek made had ties to a possible extortion attempt on the former Buffalo Sabre and New York Islander.
As has been reported, Mark Ruff, one of three men the FBI arrested in June for running an illegal gambling ring in Rochester, New York, plead guilty to gambling and money laundering. He also admitted receiving the check the Islanders issued to Vanek and that the money was laundered through a man in Connecticut.
The extortion angle only surfaced after Ruff said in court that he was threatened with extortion charges if he didn’t plead guilty to his crimes. His lawyer, James Wolford, has denied his client’s involvement in any attempts at extorting Vanek. The lawyers of Joseph Ruff and Paul Borelli, the two other men arrested together with Mark Ruff, have also refuted their clients’ involvement in the extortion allegations
“Paul Borrelli had nothing to do with any kind of threats of force or violence or extortion,” Borrelli’s lawyer, Vincent Merante said.
Meanwhile, Vanek’s agent, Steve Bartlett, addressed the new development in the case. “That may still be part of the ongoing investigation,” he told the Democrat & Chronicle, referring to the allegations of extortion. “I don’t know all the details but if that’s true, then it greater paints Thomas as a victim, not a perpetrator.”
Bartlett was also adamant that Vanek didn’t do anything wrong by betting on NFL games. “If everybody who bet on football was going to be in trouble, we’d have 90% of North America in jail,” Bartlett said. “Now, what Thomas bet was in a different stratosphere than most people but that’s all he did, he bet.”