A bookmaker pleaded guilty Thursday to laundering a $230,000 gambling debt — a payment his attorney said was made with a New York Islanders check.
That payment — apparently a salary check that was endorsed and handed over to cover wagers — was made at the same time hockey superstar Thomas Vanek played for the Islanders, said local attorney James Wolford.
Wolford declined to say whether the payment came from Vanek, who has been linked to the alleged Rochester-based gambling ring. Vanek has acknowledged testifying before a grand jury and sources say his name turned up in records seized from the alleged bookmakers.
Still, Wolford said he was surprised that Vanek’s agent said in an interview that Vanek was not involved in any wrongdoing.
Vanek previously played for the Rochester Americans and Buffalo Sabres.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Marangola, the prosecutor in the case, declined to say whether the payment came from Vanek.
On Thursday, Mark Ruff pleaded guilty in federal court to illegal gambling and money laundering. Ruff, 40, admitted helping manage a gambling operation with his brother, Joseph Ruff, and Paul Borrelli.
Joseph Ruff, 32, and Borrelli, 66, are awaiting trial.
As part of the plea, Ruff said he received a $230,000 gambling debt from a bettor — the payment was initially made to Joseph Ruff, prosecutors allege — and passed it on to a Connecticut man who was a co-conspirator but has not been charged. That individual, identified by initials N.R., deposited the money and then allegedly filtered it back to the Ruffs.
Joseph Ruff used $40,000 for a wedding celebration at the Irondequoit Country Club, his brother said in the plea. Marangola said that money has been seized by federal authorities.
Under his plea agreement, Mark Ruff will receive a sentence of nine years, if the deal is approved at a January sentencing by U.S. District Judge Frank Geraci Jr.
Ruff, who has a ninth-grade education, was clearly annoyed at his hearing, complaining that he was taking the plea because federal prosecutors could have brought more serious charges if he didn’t.
Before his arrest in June, Mark Ruff had pleaded guilty to an extortion charge in federal court in downstate New York. That conviction, and allegations he could have faced of a separate extortion incident, may have made him a “career criminal” under federal laws and subjected him to a sentence much more severe than nine years.
While Mark Ruff identified his brother and Borrelli as gambling conspirators, he did not agree to testify against them at future trials.
The three are accused of running an illegal sports gambling business that used multiple offshore Internet gambling websites.
Federal authorities allege that bettors made cash payments to settle wagers at The Marina Restaurant and Bar in the Charlotte neighborhood of Rochester. Police raided the restaurant in June.
Also raided were the homes of Borrelli and Joseph Ruff. Authorities said they seized more than $80,000 in gambling proceeds “secreted in various locations” while executing search warrants at the homes.
Authorities allege that there were $76 million in gambling wagers from January 2012 until the arrests.
In his plea, Mark Ruff admitted recruiting bettors, setting up gambling websites, and receiving payments from gamblers.
While Vanek has been linked to the ring, allegedly as one who made bets with the ring, no more details have been provided about his possible role.
Wolford said after the plea that the $230,000 was a small portion of the overall debt owed by the gambler who paid with an Islanders check. The total of the debt was more than $1 million, he said.
Throughout the plea hearing Thursday, Ruff occasionally balked before admitting guilt. Geraci noted that he has the ultimate call, and could sentence Ruff to more than nine years.
But, Geraci said, Ruff could withdraw his plea if that happened. Geraci then asked Ruff if he understood.
“If you don’t sentence me to (nine years), all bets are off on both sides,” Ruff answered.
“No pun intended.”