Agent denies bookie’s claim Thomas Vanek had $10 million gambling debt

Agent denies bookie’s claim Thomas Vanek had $10 million gambling debt

A Buffalo bookie admitted on Friday to extorting $230,000 from Thomas Vanek as partial payment for gambling losses owed by the Minnesota Wild player.

Joseph Ruff plead guilty to charges of illegal gambling, and extortion and money-laundering conspiracies. His brother, Mark, please guilty to illegal gambling and money laundering charges in October.

From the Democrat and Chronicle:

Vanek played with the New York Islanders when he made the $230,000 payment. He endorsed over a team paycheck for the payment early this year.

Vanek was never threatened with any physical harm, Parrinello said. Instead, Ruff lied to Vanek and said that he — Ruff — would be hurt if he didn't collect some money toward what Vanek owed.”

According to the law, was it extortion?" Parrinello said. “Yes."

Under an agreement with prosecutors, Ruff's sentence will be 41 months if a judge approves it at Ruff's March sentencing. He also forfeited his Greece home, tens of thousands of dollars in various accounts, another $10,000 seized in police raids, and $50,000 in a business account held by his attorney.

Matthew Parrinello, the attorney for Ruff, claimed that Vanek’s debt was near $10 million, a charge denied by the Wild forward's agent, Steve Bartlett, to ESPN’s Craig Custance: "That's absolute fantasy... complete fabrication.”

Vanek told the Star Tribune’s Mike Russo in November that he bet only on football. ("He wasn't very good,” said Parrinello.) There have been no claims made that he bet on hockey.

“I look at it as bad decisions,” Vanek said. “There’s no other way to sugarcoat it or make it seem what it’s not. I made some bad choices. I feel I’ve learned from them. … I feel I’ve done nothing wrong besides to my family and to myself, and I’ve got to move on from that.”

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!