A professional hockey player pleaded guilty Monday to being part of an illegal sports betting business that took wagers from other players.
Under an agreement with federal prosecutors, Nathan Paetsch will be sentenced to probation, 400 hours of community service and eight months of home confinement. He also must forfeit $265,000.
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Paetsch, 28, played the last three seasons in the American Hockey League. Before that, he spent part of five seasons with the National Hockey League's Buffalo Sabres, through 2010.
He was involved with a gambling operation that took bets through offshore websites, authorities said, placing wagers himself and receiving credit when he recruited fellow players and others to bet.
Two principals of the operation, brothers Mark and Joseph Ruff of Connecticut, were sentenced this year to nine years and just under 3 1/2 years in prison, respectively, after pleading guilty to illegal gambling and other charges. A third man, Paul Borrelli of Rochester, is awaiting sentencing.
Paetsch's attorney said the player's involvement in the business was minimal, and neither he nor the hockey players he introduced to the operation ever bet on hockey.
"With all the players, it was really a group of friends having fun gambling among themselves," attorney David Morabito said. "But they didn't realize that the individuals they were gambling with were much more serious people that were involved in a serious gambling operation."
Paetsch's contract with the Detroit Red Wings' AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, ends at the end of this year and the two sides are discussing an extension, Red Wings assistant general manager Ryan Martin said. The conviction will not affect talks with the defenseman, he said.
"Nathan's done a terrific job there helping us to develop our younger players for the Detroit Red Wings," Martin said. "He's a veteran that played in the NHL. He's got a great commitment to off-ice conditioning. He's a great role model for those players in terms of being a professional hockey player."
The home confinement and community service included in the plea agreement are not expected to interfere with his ability to play, Martin said.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul said Paetsch provided usernames and passwords for bettors to place Internet wagers and made arrangements for the collection of payments from bettors in Canada, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida. He would evade bank reporting requirements by keeping transactions to under $10,000, prosecutors said.
The charges to which Paetsch pleaded guilty, transmission of wagering information and structuring transactions to evade reporting requirements, carry a maximum potential penalty of seven years in prison.
Although the plea agreement requires Paetsch to forfeit $265,000 in lieu of a 2011 BMW and his interests in two homes, in Spencerport and Naples, Florida, the amount that he won gambling was much less, Morabito said, estimating it at around $26,000.
Morabito said Paetsch plans to apologize to his family, friends and teammates at his sentencing, scheduled for Aug. 31 in federal court in Rochester.