Gretzky denies gambling
Feb. 10, 2006. 12:44 AM
His wife bet $5,000 on the Super Bowl coin toss and won
TRENTON, N.J. (AP-CP) — 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 connected to the operation, 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.
After Phoenix’s game on Thursday night, Gretzky did not take questions or talk about the wire taps during a brief news conference. He reiterated that he had never bet and said he planned to stay with the Coyotes and attend the Turin Olympics as Team Canada’s executive director.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said after the Coyotes’ 5-1 loss to Dallas. “I’m still going to coach the Phoenix Coyotes. I’ve done nothing wrong.
“I’m going to Italy on Sunday. I’m going to be with Team Canada.”
Gary Bettman is NHL Commisioner and Bob Nicholson is the president of Hockey Canada, which oversees the Olympic team.
Gretzky’s comments were backed up by his wife, actress Janet Jones, who allegedly bet at least $100,000 US on football games over the course of the investigation by state authorities, the AP source said.
“At no time did I ever place a wager on my husband’s behalf, period,” Jones said in a statement provided by the Coyotes on Thursday night. “Other than the occasional horse race, my husband does not bet on any sports.”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.
The police have not officially identified any of those said to have placed bets. All information on Jones’s alleged involvement has come from anonymous sources.
Elliot Mintz, a spokesman for Jones, said that she may be called as a witness before a grand jury in New Jersey.
“Janet is merely one of a number of witnesses” Mintz said in a statement. “There is no allegation whatsoever that Janet has violated any law.”
Investigators are looking into whether anyone involved in the five-year-old alleged betting ring, which authorities say had a connection to organized crime in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, bet on NHL games.
New Jersey state police Lieut. Gerald Lewis told the New York Daily News it’s not illegal to place a bet, so anyone who made wagers with this ring will not be charged. It is only illegal to act as a broker or to profit from gambling.
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,” Gretzky said Tuesday. “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.”
Jones lives in the Gretzky’s Los Angeles home, with four of their kids. Gretzky lives in Phoenix, with their 15-year-old son Ty.
Hockey players are prohibited from making NHL wagers, legal or otherwise. There are no rules that forbid them from placing legal bets on other sports.
Gretzky did not attend the Coyotes practice in Phoenix on Thursday. He was not expected to be available until after Thursday night’s game against the Dallas Stars in Phoenix and the team had no immediate comment, said Coyotes spokesman Rich Nairn.
Sources close to the Coyotes said Thursday that Gretzky, Team Canada’s executive director, is going to Turin, Italy, next week, as planned for the Olympics.
And Gretzky got a vote of confidence from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
After a telephone conversation with a member of Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey team Thursday, Harper was asked if Gretzky should go to Turin.
“I’m sure he’ll do us proud over there,” Harper responded to reporters in Ottawa.
Lawyers involved in the case, meanwhile, 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.
Lawyers for all three men charged in what authorities have dubbed Operation Slap Shot” 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 website 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, New Jersey 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,” Corzine said at a news conference Thursday.
Boston Bruins centre Travis Green declined comment on whether he has been interviewed by investigators.
“I don’t have a lot to say about it,” Green told the Boston Globe. “(Tocchet) is a friend of mine, but I have no comment about it. I have no comment on that situation.”
Pittsburgh’s Mark Recchi, a former teammate of Tocchet’s, forced a Philadelphia TV station to retract a story on its website that said he was connected to the gambling ring. He and John LeClair, another Penguins player and past member of the Flyers, hired a lawyer to potentially sue the station and other media outlets.
“Mark Recchi and John LeClair categorically deny any wrongdoing and are outraged that their names have been associated with the Operation Slap Shot investigation,” lawyer Bob Del Greco said. ``While each has maintained a personal and business relationship with their friend and former teammate Rick Tocchet, neither have any involvement whatsoever in any gambling operation.”
Recchi and LeClair said they haven’t been contacted by authorities and don’t expect to be.
The Los Angeles Times, citing league sources, reported Wednesday that Kings forward Jeremy Roenick was notified Tuesday that investigators want to interview him.
Contacted by a Canadian Press Olympic reporter calling from Turin, Italy, on Thursday, Roenick had no comment other than: ``Bring me home some cannoli.”