Fri., 2:07pm: Pittsburgh man gets probation in Hines Ward threat
PITTSBURGH — A man who pleaded guilty to trying to extort $15,000 from former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward will spend two years on probation.
Joshua Van Auker, 26, pleaded guilty Tuesday in front of an Allegheny County judge to a lesser version of the original charge of attempted theft by threatening to expose a secret, court records showed.
Ward’s assistant, Raymond Burgess, contacted authorities last fall after Van Auker sent him a text message claiming to have damaging information. Detectives with the Allegheny County district attorney’s office investigated and determined that Van Auker decided to make the demands after learning his girlfriend “had been involved in a prior physical relationship with Ward,” according to a criminal complaint.
The woman was not identified in the complaint, and authorities never described the information Van Auker claimed to have or said whether it was even true. A district attorney’s spokesman didn’t immediately comment Friday.
Burgess went to investigators, the complaint said, and afterward spoke again with Van Auker, who repeated the extortion demand by saying, “It’s called buying silence, brother.” Detectives watching that encounter in October arrested Van Auker.
Burgess has said an envelope Van Auker gave him purporting to contain the damaging information contained only papers, not pictures, but Burgess has declined to otherwise describe its contents. Ward’s manager, Andrew Ree, has said then that the extortion attempt was “the act of a desperate individual trying to get money from a celebrity.” Ree didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
Van Auker didn’t answer a cellphone number Friday used to contact him last year. The man who answered the phone said he had loaned Van Auker the phone last year but doesn’t currently know how to reach him.