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Authorities charged a Brookline man on Thursday with trying to blackmail former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward with claims Ward paid women for sex.
Detectives from the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office said Joshua R. Van Auker, 26, demanded $15,000 from Ward through his personal assistant, Raymond Burgess Jr., saying he would release information proving his claims. Burgess told investigators that Van Auker thought his girlfriend had been in a relationship with Ward.
Ward, 36, and Burgess could not be reached for comment. Andrew Ree, Ward’s marketing agent and attorney, did not return phone messages.
Van Auker was awaiting arraignment in the county jail on two counts of attempted extortion.
Detective Lyle Graber wrote in a criminal complaint that Van Auker sent a text message to Burgess on Wednesday demanding the money. If Ward didn’t pay, “Josh Van Auker would sell or otherwise release materials he possessed, thereby alleging that Ward committed the criminal offense of paying women for sex, and thereby also exposing Ward to ridicule or contempt,” Graber wrote.
In a phone call Wednesday, Van Auker again demanded $15,000 from Ward through Burgess, saying, “It’s called buying silence, brother,” the complaint states.
Burgess contacted detectives and on Thursday met Van Auker on Broad Street in Sewickley. There, Burgess handed Van Auker an envelope containing $15,000 provided by law enforcement, the complaint states. After Van Auker handed Burgess an envelope containing what he claimed were the materials against Ward, detectives arrested Van Auker. Authorities did not say what was in that envelope.
Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr, would not comment Thursday night.
Ward became an analyst for NBC this year after retiring from the Steelers.
He played his entire 14-year NFL career in Pittsburgh. He won two Super Bowls, was named the MVP of Super Bowl XL, and was a four-time Pro Bowler. He also is the only Steeler to top 1,000 receiving yards for four consecutive seasons, according to his biography. He became the eighth player in NFL history to reach 1,000 career receptions on Jan. 1, 2012, his last catch as a Steeler.
This article was written by Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE.