Gretzky's wife, Coyotes assistant implicated with gambling ring

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

The Phoenix coach allegedly financed the operation.

EWING, N.J. -- Wayne Gretzky's wife and about a half-dozen NHL players placed bets -- but not on hockey -- with a nationwide sports gambling ring financed by Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet, authorities said Tuesday.

At the request of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Tocchet did not attend the Coyotes' game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night. In a statement, the Coyotes said Tocchet was "was flying back East this evening to address the allegations in a meeting with Bettman."

Gretzky, hockey's greatest player, is in his first season coaching the Coyotes and is a part-owner of the team.

Actress-wife Janet Jones was among those implicated, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because no bettors have been publicly identified.

Asked about her involvement, Gretzky laughed and said, "Oh really? I don't know. You'd have to ask her that."

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.

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.

Gretzky overruled by NHL

Gretzky had said Tocchet would be on the bench for Tuesday night's home game against Chicago, and it would be "business as usual." But Bettman changed that plan.

"Everyone in the world is innocent until proven guilty," Gretzky said. "He's a great guy and a good friend. He's just going through a tough time right now, obviously, and we've got to let it run its course. It's a situation that's obviously a concern for the organization at this point."

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.

"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.

The 41-year-old Tocchet played 18 years with six teams, including three seasons with the Coyotes from 1997-00. He is one of only four players in NHL history to collect 400 goals and 2,000 penalty minutes.

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