PITTSBURGH (AP) — A man who claims his girlfriend once had a "physical relationship" with retired Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward was in custody Friday on charges he tried to extort $15,000 from the player by threatening to release evidence the player had paid for sex.
Joshua Van Auker, 26, of Pittsburgh, awaited arraignment on two felony counts of attempted extortion.
Van Auker was arrested Thursday by detectives from the Allegheny County district attorney's office after he allegedly met with Ward's personal assistant, Raymond Burgess, who paid him the money in exchange for unspecified "materials" in an envelope that Van Auker said could prove his claims, according to a criminal complaint. Detectives monitoring that exchange then arrested Van Auker but have not said what was in the envelope.
Online court records don't list an attorney for Van Auker.
A spokesman for Ward, Andrew Ree, 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, did not even know about any extortion attempt until Thursday and "played no part in anything," Ree said.
According to the complaint, Burgess contacted the prosecutor's office on Wednesday to say he had gotten a text message from Van Auker containing the extortion message.
If payment was not made, the message said, Van Auker planned to sell or release materials alleging Ward paid women for sex, thereby exposing him to "ridicule or contempt," according to the complaint.
Burgess told investigators Van Auker decided to make the demands after learning his girlfriend "had been involved in a prior physical relationship with Ward," the complaint said.
The woman is not identified in the complaint. One of two charges against Van Auker says he "threatened to publicly accuse the victim of soliciting prostitutes."
After contacting investigators, Burgess again spoke with Van Auker, who allegedly repeated the extortion demand by saying, "It's called buying silence, brother," the complaint said.
Ward, 36, retired in March after 14 seasons with the Steelers. He had 1,000 catches for 12,021 yards, both franchise records, and was MVP of the Super Bowl XL, which the Steelers won in 2006.
Ward has parlayed that success into a second career as a pregame commentator and reporter with NBC Sports, and had also appeared on ABC's "Dancing With The Stars," while still a player.
Ward, whose father is black and mother is Korean, has also worked to raise awareness about discrimination that mixed-race children face in the United States and his mother's native country.
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (6/18-6/24)
25 photos Launch gallery
1. Me & the homie @jaleelwhite #RujohnFoundation Happy to be in Jamaica! Good times
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5. Good Morning. Early day in Detroit! Making press rounds for @thebossnetwork's Ladies That Lead Tour. Thank you @traycemadre and @colourbynumbr for my glam.
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6. POWER the best show on TV @djenvy, Queens we so big out here. #EFFENVODKA #FRIGO
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7. They said u lost a step, wasn't explosive as once was, the best days was in the real view, questioned your drive, your leadership, your commitment, you don't have killer instinct, going back home is the worst mistake in your career, he got the coach fired, players traded, won't work between him and Kyrie, Him and Kev won't work, love your teammates to much, there's no way he can deliver a championship in his hometown, etc etc etc.... But guess what THATS NONE OF MY BUSINESS #StriveForGreatness #ThisOneIsForTheLand #PutSomeRespeckOnMyName Hahahaha!!! Yes sir
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8. Oooooh weeee this man right here is responsible for at least three of our four babies!! #JOE ❤❤❤🎤 #rnb #king #voicelikebutter #ForPeetesSake
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9. Hanging with my @abcnetwork family! @abcunclebuck tonite y'all check us out ! @anthonyanderson @traceeellisross
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10. My broski ( @sayeedshahidi ) and I are on Top 5 Live on @go90 at 5 (which is super duper close)! Make sure to tune in :) #UncleBuck #Blackish
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11. Lights out💤 #GoodNight
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12. Late nights mornings
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13. Ran into the lovely talented @siedahgarrett on this brutiful favvuz deh!
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14. #halal #love #thedargans #kattwilliamsSHOW #mashallah when that Jennah piece HIT!! @sweetjennahcollection glasses by @baddieglamaccessories LIZ 😍 @dynamiteko top @dazzledmv and jeans @thevision414 and shoes: @louboutinworld
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15. Big Hair and Optical Illusions #OceanDrive #MiamiLiving #coverparty
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16. MAMA and THE SAVAGES ... ⚓️ #supportyourlocalgirlgang
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17. From the bottom of my ❤️, thank you new followers & old! & hello fellow night owls! #grateful #racheltrue #naturalhair #curlyhair #curlygirl #healthyhair
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18. I feel so grateful because I met these amazing young minds, visiting from Houston TX, during their college tour stop today at #usc.These students are ALL extraordinary and embody academic excellence so I'm humbled to have shared a few moments with them to applaud and celebrate their bright futures ahead! Thank you @EmergeFellows for inviting me to speak and blessing me with your love and attention this afternoon!
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19. Happy Fathers Day Pops. U taught me how to be a man. Lessons of love, hard work & gratefulness. Sorry the fishing didn't stick. LOL. I Love U!
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20. Sky Zone and Ice Cream! Best Fathers Day Ever!! Photo credit @mariahcarey
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21. Look what finally came in the mail 😎 #mtvmovieawards2016 💥+🌽! #straightouttacompton
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22. Claudia Jordan: ....
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23. 'Member that time I almost knocked a bajillion dollar camera off the car? Really? Yeah, me neither! #Greenleaf Episode 2 comin atcha!
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24. Full of love. #birthday #Cabo
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25. Oh hey! Look who just joined Snapchat
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