Posted on Wed, Feb. 08, 2006
Gretzky's wife cited in gambling ring
GLENDALE, Ariz. - Rick Tocchet, Wayne Gretzky's close friend and top assistant coach, headed to New York to face NHL commissioner Gary Bettman after he was implicated as the financier of a nationwide sports betting ring.
In an investigation they called "Operation Slapshot," New Jersey authorities said several NHL players - and Gretzy's wife - were among those placing bets.
Gretzky, revered as hockey's greatest player who is now in his first season as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, met with reporters after his team's 3-1 loss to Chicago on Tuesday night and said he had no knowledge of any gambling allegations until Tocchet called him Monday night.
"The sad thing about this whole scenario is that Rick is a wonderful person and a great guy, so I hope everything works out in his favor," Gretzky said. "It's hard because I love the guy. He's a great guy, you know. I just hope it all works out for him."
He said his wife, actress Janet Jones, would talk to reporters at some point about allegations against her.
"Listen, first of all, my wife is my best friend," Gretzky said. "My love for her is deeper than anything. The reality is, I'm not involved, I wasn't involved and I'm not going to be involved. Am I concerned for both of them? Sure there's concern from me. I'm more worried about them than me. I'm like you guys, I'm trying to figure it all out."
Gretzky's wife was among those implicated, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because no bettors have been publicly identified.
Gretzky said his wife was in California and they talked, but she did not speak about her involvement.
"We didn't get into it other than she was concerned about Rick and she felt it was a tough situation with him," Gretzky said, "and she would sit down at some point and answer questions that everybody has for her and be her own person."
Gretzky said "absolutely not" when asked if she had placed bets for him.
Except for trips to Las Vegas, Gretzky said, he's no gambler.
"I'm standing here trying to answer questions and it's not even me this is about," Gretzky said. "It's the frustrating hard part for me, but I understand. I'm a big boy and you guys have a responsibility and a job to do and that's fine."
State police Col. Rick Fuentes said an investigation into the New Jersey-based ring discovered the processing of more than 1,000 wagers, exceeding $1.7 million, on professional and college sports, mostly football and basketball.
The developments came at a sensitive time for the NHL, which is trying to win back fans after a season-long lockout and just days before many of its best players will showcase their talents at the Turin Olympics.
Tocchet was served with a criminal complaint Monday and was expected to travel to New Jersey to answer charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy, Fuentes said.
A criminal complaint informs Tocchet of authorities' intention to formally charge him and the need for him to arrange to travel to New Jersey for formal charging, or face arrest.
"It's not a hockey-related issue, it's a football thing. And at this time, I can't comment any further," Tocchet said after the Coyotes practiced earlier Tuesday.
Tocchet acknowledged that a New Jersey state trooper arrested in connection with the gambling ring case is his friend. Tocchet said he would cooperate with the investigation, but didn't answer when asked if he'd surrender to authorities.
"We understand that Mr. Tocchet's conduct in no way involved betting on hockey," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "And, while betting on football or other sports may be the pervasive issue, it in no way justifies poor judgment or otherwise alleged inappropriate conduct."
Daly said the NHL was conducting its own internal investigation.
Authorities said Tocchet and state police Trooper James Harney were partners in the operation, with the ex-NHL forward providing the financing.
"Tocchet received illegal sports bets from wagers and funneled money back to New Jersey," Fuentes said.
Tocchet, one of three associate coaches on the Coyotes' staff, took over the head coaching duties for 10 days in December while Gretzky was with his dying mother.
The 41-year-old Tocchet played 18 years with six teams, including three seasons with the Coyotes from 1997-00. He's one of only four players in NHL history to collect 400 goals and 2,000 penalty minutes.
Tocchet was a fan favorite wherever he played, including two stints with the Philadelphia Flyers (1984-92, 2000-02).
"I think everybody is surprised," Flyers center Peter Forsberg said. "It's definitely not good for the sport to hear something like that."
Harney, 40, was arrested Monday and has been suspended from the force. The eight-year police veteran was charged in an arrest warrant with official misconduct, promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy. Another man accused of taking bets is James Ulmer, 40, who was charged with promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy.
Both men were free after posting 10 percent of their bail. Harney had $100,000 bail; Ulmer had $50,000 bail. The two men were expected to be arraigned in state Superior Court in Burlington County within two weeks.
The gambling ring had a connection with organized crime in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, Fuentes said. Starting Monday night, authorities seized property from Harney and Ulmer. State police seized $27,000 in currency, "voluminous" amounts of sports betting information and bank accounts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Fuentes said.
Associated Press Writer Chris Newmarker in Ewing, N.J., contributed to this report.