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Gretzky on tape in bet probe

He, alleged financier discuss how wife could avoid being implicated.

Associated Press
Published February 10, 2006


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, the Associated Press reported 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.

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

There is no evidence that Gretzky placed any bets.

"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.

Jones has not been charged.

Elliot Mintz, a spokesman for Jones, said in a statement that she may be called as a witness before a grand jury in New Jersey.

"Janet is merely one of a number of witnesses and there is no allegation whatsoever that Janet has violated any law," he said.

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 Star-Ledger of Newark 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.

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 on 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.

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 placing legal bets on other sports.