Wiretap gets Gretzky talking about his wife's gambling predicament

Friday, February 10, 2006

By ANGELA DELLI SANTI and GEOFF MULVIHILL

TRENTON, N.J. -- Wayne Gretzky was recorded on a wiretap talking to the alleged financier of a gambling ring, discussing how the hockey great's wife could avoid being implicated, a person with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Gretzky, coach and part-owner of the Phoenix Coyotes, can be heard on wiretaps made within the past month talking about his wife with assistant coach Rick Tocchet, the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

Gretzky's wife, actress Janet Jones, allegedly bet at least $100,000 on football games over the course of the investigation by state authorities, the person said.

There is no evidence that Gretzky placed any bets, according to the person.

Authorities say from Dec. 29 through Feb. 5 -- the day of the Super Bowl -- bettors placed a total of $1.7 million in wagers with the ring run by a New Jersey state trooper, Tocchet and a South Jersey man. All face charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy and are scheduled to be arraigned in Superior Court in Mount Holly on Feb. 21, the state Attorney General's office said Thursday.

Jones has not been charged.

Investigators are looking into whether anyone involved in the 5-year-old ring, which authorities say had a connection to organized crime in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, bet on NHL games. Gretzky is not the main focus of the probe, the person said.

The Star-Ledger of Newark, citing unidentified law enforcement sources, first reported of a wiretap involving Gretzky in Thursday's newspapers. The newspaper also reported that Jones bet $500,000 during the investigation, including $75,000 on the Super Bowl.

Earlier in the week, Gretzky denied any involvement in the ring.

"My love for her [Jones] 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 said Tuesday.

Gretzky did not attend the Coyotes practice in Phoenix on Thursday. He would not be available until after Thursday night's game against the Dallas Stars in Phoenix and the team would not comment, said Coyotes spokesman Rich Nairn.

Lawyers involved in the case said details of the three-month investigation should not be made public.

"I have never been involved in a case where the prosecution has engaged in such inappropriate conduct in terms of making investigators available to the press, appearing on nationally syndicated television," said Kevin Marino, a lawyer for Tocchet, who was granted an indefinite leave from the NHL Wednesday. "It's improper, it's unwarranted and I will not tolerate it."

"We are not going to try this case in the press and we're not going to let them either," he said.

Attorneys for all three men charged in what authorities have dubbed "Operation Slapshot" said they will fight the charges.

"This case will not be a guilty plea," said Charles A. Peruto Jr., who is representing James Ulmer. Ulmer, along with Trooper James Harney, is accused of taking wagers and cuts of the bets.

The allegations have sent waves through the hockey world.

State investigators said they will interview more hockey players who were believed to have placed bets, in part to determine whether there was any gambling on hockey. So far, authorities say, they do not have evidence that there was.

The NHL has hired Robert Cleary, a former federal prosecutor who handled the Unabomber case, to investigate.

Cleary said Thursday that he was not sure how long his work might take, in part because he wants to stay out of the way of law enforcement agents who are continuing to investigate.

Hockey players are prohibited from making NHL wagers, legal or otherwise. There are no rules that forbid them from betting on other sports.

The NHL Players' Association posted a message on a secure Web site Wednesday advising any players who are contacted by law enforcement authorities -- or even the league itself -- to contact their lawyer "before talking to anyone," the Toronto Star reported.

Asked about the scandal Thursday, Gov. Jon S. Corzine expressed confidence in law enforcement.

The New Jersey State Police is also investigating itself in the case.

"I'm convinced that the state police are doing a thorough investigation of their own affairs," Gov. Jon S. Corzine said at a news conference Thursday.


Associated Press Writer Beth DeFalco in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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