Lawyers for a Rochester, New York man accused of running an illegal sports betting ring have stated that National Hockey League player Thomas Vanek owed the defendant nearly $10 million in gambling debts.
"It was monopoly money," Matthew Parrinello, who represents bookmaker Joseph Ruff, said Tuesday. "Was he ever going to pay? No. Did they expect him to pay (the entirety he owed)? No."
But federal prosecutors dispute the notion that Vanek owes that type of money. Barbara Burns, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said Monday that nobody wagered or owed anywhere near $10 million, including Vanek.
"It is not the practice of our Office to identify witnesses or victims," Burns said in a statement. "But, during the course of this investigation, we are able to say that at no time did any bettor owe the defendants $10,000,000."
Vanek's agent, Stephen Bartlett, also called the $10 million figure “pure fantasy”. Other sources close to the investigation suggest the amount owed is between $1 million and $2 million.
Ruff and his brother plead guilty last week to operating an illegal gambling operation that took in around $76 million in bets from a restaurant they both own.
As part of Ruff’s admission of guilt he had to admit using extortion methods to get Vanek to pay outstanding debts owed.
Vanek’s name was initially dragged into the investigation after authorities discovered the former Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders player had written a check to the brothers.
All parties involved have stated that Vanek only wagered on NFL and NBA games. He is not accused of betting on NHL matchups.