State wiretaps in the unfolding NHL betting scandal caught Wayne Gretzky discussing the multimillion-dollar gambling operation run by his friend Rick Tocchet before the ring was dismantled Monday, according to law enforcement sources.Wayne Gretzky said this Tuesday night after the Coyotes' 3-1 loss to Chicago:
There is no evidence Gretzky made any bets, the sources said, but the secretly recorded phone calls show the hockey hall-of-famer knew about the gambling ring, and investigators are looking into whether he placed any wagers through his wife, Janet Jones.
Jones was among the gamblers who placed more than $1.7 million in wagers in the past six weeks with the ring allegedly run by Tocchet and a New Jersey state trooper (Jim Harney). Jones put down $500,000 on games during that period, including $75,000 on last weekend's Super Bowl, sources said. She even wagered on which team would win the opening coin toss -- winning $5,000 with that bet.
First of all, my wife is my best friend. 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 trying to figure it all out.When asked if his wife had placed bets for him, Gretzky said "absolutely not." Except for trips to Las Vegas, Gretzky said he does not gamble.
Craig Mitnick, a lawyer for Jim Harney, said he believed New Jersey officials waited until after the huge gambling event that is the Super Bowl in order to make the size of the alleged ring look bigger.
Jaromir Jagr said he ran up a $500,000 debt earlier in his career betting on sports events on the Internet. Jagr said yesterday that he didn't place any bets with Tocchet and wasn't contacted by authorities. He also didn't expect to be called
Gretzky talked about betting ring on wiretap [Newark Star Ledger, Feb. 9, 2006]
Gretzky's wife takes center ice in probe [Newark Star Ledger, Feb. 8, 2006]
AG, lawyer at odds over trooper's story [Newark Star Ledger, Feb. 7, 2006]
The bartender and the NHL player [Toronto Star, Feb. 9, 2006]
NHL pulls power play [NY Daily News, Feb. 9, 2006]
ICINGS: Janet Jones was engaged to tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis for three years, before he broke the engagement. He later died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1994. She also dated actors Bruce Willis and Nels Van Patten, son of Dick Van Patten. Gretzky met Janet when he was a judge on Merv Griffin's show Dance Fever in 1984. They ran into each other at a Los Angeles Lakers game in 1987; Gretzky told Howard Stern's radio audience that they consummated their relationship that night. She appeared in a semi-nude pictorial in the March 1987 issue of Playboy. She married Gretzky on July 17, 1988. She is 16 days older than Gretzky. They were both born in January 1961. They have five children.
Update: Jones issued a statement on Thursday saying she has never placed bets for her husband.
"At no time did I ever place a wager on my husband's behalf," Jones said in a two-sentence statement. "Other than the occasional horse race, my husband does not bet on any sports."
The statement, issued by spokesman Elliot Mintz, added that Jones may be called as a witness before a grand jury in the New Jersey investigation of the multimillion-dollar gambling operation that Tocchet is suspected of financing. He, along with a New Jersey state trooper and a third man face charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy.
The statement also said, "(T)here is no allegation that Janet has violated any law."
I only note this in passing -- a small discrepancy:
Gretzky: "Except for trips to Las Vegas, Gretzky said he does not gamble."
Jones: "Other than the occasional horse race, my husband does not bet on any sports."
Other developments in the gambling scandal:
• Gretzky's voice was recorded by a wiretap talking to Tocchet about how Jones could avoid being implicated, a source close to the investigation told the Associated Press.
• Coyotes General Manager Mike Barnett placed a bet on Sunday's Super Bowl for "a few hundred dollars" through Tocchet, according to multiple NHL sources. Barnett was the agent for Wayne Gretzky, now the Coyotes' coach and part-owner, for many years before becoming the Coyotes' general manager in August 2001.
• Tocchet and his two co-defendants (James J. Harney of the New Jersey State Police and James A. Ulmer of Swedesboro, N.J) will be arraigned on Feb. 21, at 3 p.m., in Superior Court in Mount Holly, New Jersey. They each face charges of money laundering, promotion of gambling and conspiracy.
• Bail was set at $100,000 for Harney and $50,000 for Ulmer, and both were released after posting 10 percent in cash.
• Search warrants executed on Monday at various locations turned up $27,000 in cash and "voluminous records," including lists of bettors and agents. At Harney's home alone, authorities said they discovered more than $250,000 in Rolex watches and nine plasma television sets, two of which, were located in the bathroom.
• Police allege that Tocchet, a onetime Philadelphia Flyers captain, met Harney a decade ago at a bar called Legends in a Holiday Inn near the Philadelphia arena where Harney worked as a bartender before joining the police force. Legends was also a popular hangout for Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, the underboss of the Bruno-Scarfo family. As reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, in that city, "rumours of wiseguys mingling with hockey players are nothing new."
• Newark Star Ledger reported: "A source close to the investigation said Tocchet, in Phoenix, and Harney, in New Jersey, took wagers on games from bettors and then placed their bets with another person, known as a "bookie." It was unclear who their bookie was, although State Police said detectives have linked the ring to members of the Bruno-Scarfo crime family that operates in Philadelphia and South Jersey."
• 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
• Pittsburgh’s Mark Recchi, a former teammate of Tocchet’s, forced a Philadelphia TV station (Channel 6 Action News) 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.
• The NHL has hired Robert Cleary, a former federal prosecutor who handled the Unabomber case, to investigate.
• A MSG-TV network legal analyst says that Gretzky's biggest potential legal problem may be due to filing a joint tax return with his wife. If her gambling winnings (if any) are not properly recorded then he may be liable for tax fraud.
• 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."
Best advice I've heard yet.
How the mob, players mingled in Philadelphia [Toronto Star, Feb. 10, 2005]
Gretzky didn't wager, wife says [Arizona Republic, Feb. 10, 2005]
Gretzky faces Great gamble [NY Daily News, Feb. 10, 2005]
Gretzky denies gambling [Toronto Star, Feb. 10, 2005]
Double ICINGS - From Kukla's Korner:
Jagr made a jab at goalkeeper Dominik Hasek, his teammate on the Czech national team, telling journalists he hopes the goals with which his Rangers beat Hasek’s Ottawa Senators 5-1 were the last goals that made it past Hasek this month.
“I hope that from now on he catches excellently and does not let a single goal in. That would help us a whole lot,” Jagr told journalist with a grin in the locker room of New York’s Madison Square Garden.- Prague Daily Monitior