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Man arrested in alleged extortion plot targeting Hines Ward

  • By NFL.com Wire Reports
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Pennsylvania authorities say they have arrested a man who tried to extort $15,000 from retired Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward.

Allegheny County prosecutors say 26-year-old Joshua Van Auker was arrested Thursday after trying to extort the money through one of Ward's personal assistants, Raymond Burgess Jr. They say Van Auker threatened to release information alleging Ward had paid women for sex.

Van Auker was in jail awaiting arraignment on two counts of attempted extortion, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Andrew Ree, a spokesman for Ward, called the alleged extortion attempt "the act of a desperate individual trying to get money from a celebrity." Ward, who was traveling Friday and unavailable for comment, didn't even know about any extortion attempt until Thursday and "played no part in anything," Ree said.

Burgess told authorities that Van Auker believed his girlfriend had been involved in a relationship with Ward, according to the criminal complaint. Van Auker sent a text message to Burgess on Wednesday demanding money, authorities said. If Ward didn't pay, Van Auker threatened to sell the materials in his possession that allegedly proved the ex-Steeler paid women for sex.

Van Auker later demanded money in a phone call to Burgess on Wednesday, the complaint stated.

Burgess then contacted authorities, who helped set up a Thursday meeting between Burgess and Van Auker. Allegheny County detectives arrested Van Auker after he accepted an envelope from Burgess containing $15,000 provided by law enforcement, the Tribune-Review reported.

Ward, 36, won two Super Bowl championships during his 14 seasons in Pittsburgh before retiring after the 2011 season. Ward became an analyst for NBC.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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