- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

Jaromir Jagr yesterday termed "stupid" his involvement with a gambling Web site on which he ran up debts of about $500,000, according to a story in this week's Sports Illustrated.

"That was 1998 and I made mistakes," the Washington Capitals right wing said. "There wasn't anything wrong with [what I did, but] it wasn't very smart. It was stupid. It wasn't illegal. And it was five years ago. And everything was taken care of [debts paid] in 1999, four years ago. And I don't want to talk about it."

SI said Jagr, 31, had been gambling online with a Web site known as CaribSports and operated from the Central American country of Belize. The magazine said the  site is owned by William Caesar.

According to the story, Jagr agreed to make nine monthly payments of $37,500 each and one payment of $112,500. The story does not make clear whether Jagr paid off the debt, and it does say Caesar leaked the story to SI in a retaliatory step.

Caesar told Sports Illustrated that he had Jagr's betting page configured so that the then-Pittsburgh Penguins standout couldn't bet on NHL games.

"We did that for our own protection, not just his," Caesar said. "That would destroy us, if he destroyed the game."

Meanwhile, two NHL officials said the league does not forbid gambling by players.

"We currently have no prohibition on recreational gambling by players provided that no money is bet on NHL games," executive vice president and chief legal officer Bill Daly said in a statement.

An NHL spokesman said that the league's 30 general managers have been educated about gambling issues. The NHL has an employee assistance program dating back at least seven years for players or others in the league with gambling problems. The league, along with the NHL Players Association, has doctors speak to all of its teams each year about such issues as substance abuse and gambling.

Jagr did not deny any portion of the basic story but strongly maintained yesterday before practice that the debt was satisfied, and he repeated that claim after he left the ice.

Asked why the story was coming out now, he replied, "I don't know. I paid the debt in 1999."

Jagr is in the second year of a seven-year, $78 million contract with the Caps that makes him the NHL's best-paid player.

Caps general manager George McPhee refused to comment, maintaining it was a personal matter. Coach Bruce Cassidy said basically the same thing.

"I try to stay out of our players' personal business," he said. "That's his business, not mine."

Jagr's teammates also said it was a personal matter, not something for them to be involved in.

The timing of the SI article is somewhat particular. It was reported a little more than a week ago that the Internal Revenue Service had placed a lien on a home Jagr owns in Upper St. Clair, a Pittsburgh suburb, valued at $338,400, according to Allegheny County tax records.

Papers filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court by the IRS claim the player owes $3,270,209 in income taxes for the 2001 calendar year. Court records also indicated that less than a year ago Jagr paid $350,000 plus penalties and costs for unpaid income taxes covering the calendar year 1999, and a previous lien was dropped when that claim was settled.

Linda Dozoretz, speaking on behalf of Jagr's management firm, IMG Hockey, said, "The alleged gambling and the tax problem are not related."

Dozoretz said that the tax issues from 1999 involve underestimation of withholding and a disqualified writeoff.

"The process dictates that the figures be reassessed, and that is being done," she said. "In the meantime, estimates and partial payments for 2002 are on schedule and estimates for 2003 are done. The taxes for 2001 will be resolved within the timeline and procedures dictated by the IRS. Jaromir looks forward to being up to date on his taxes shortly."

Staff writer David Elfin contributed to this report.

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