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Briton with ties to European soccer star pleads guilty to money laundering in Buffalo courtroom

Martin Rhys Jones may not be big news here, but on the other side of the pond, he’s getting a ton of ink.

The British resident pleaded guilty to money laundering Tuesday in a telemarketing case that is garnering headlines overseas because of his ties to European soccer star Gareth Bale.

Bale’s longtime partner and childhood sweetheart is Rhys Jones’ daughter Emma. They also have two children together.

There was no mention of Bale during Rhys Jones’ appearance in federal court in Buffalo, but their relationship is well-known in Britain, where Bale, also a native of Wales, is one of his sports’ most popular and highly paid players.

He is currently with Spain’s Real Madrid and the Wales national team.

Rhys Jones, 52, admitted Tuesday to taking part in the “boiler room,” the name given to a penny stock scam that cost victims in Canada and Britain an estimated $2.9 million. The scheme was based in Barcelona, Spain.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John E. Rogowski estimated the number of victims at 254 and, in court papers, indicated high-pressure sales tactics were used to sell the inflated stocks.

The case was prosecuted here because some of the money from the scheme flowed through a bank in Hamburg. The lead defendant, Arnold Wrobel, is also a native of Buffalo. He pleaded guilty to fraud and tax charges before U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Wolford in December.

E. Carey Cantwell, Rhys Jones’ defense lawyer, contends that the government’s estimates on the number of victims and amount of money lost because of the scam are artificially high. He says the loss is less than $1.5 million.

In Britain, Rhys Jones’ case has attracted a great deal of media attention because of his daughter’s high-profile relationship with Bale.

At one point, there were media reports that Rhys Jones had been denied bail in his Buffalo case because of fears that he might access his son-in-law’s fortune and flee the country. He did jump bail in 2012 after his initial arrest in Spain but was later caught.

His guilty plea is the result of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Criminal Investigations Division of the IRS.