- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

TRENTON, N.J. — Wayne Gretzky was recorded on a wiretap talking to the man suspected of financing 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 yesterday.

Mr. 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.

Mr. Gretzky’s wife, actress Janet Jones, purportedly 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 Mr. Gretzky placed any bets, according to the person.

“At no time did I ever place a wager on my husband’s behalf, period,” Mrs. Jones said in a statement provided by the Coyotes last 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 $1.7 million in wagers with the ring run by a New Jersey state trooper, Mr. 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 yesterday.

Mrs. Jones has not been charged.

Elliot Mintz, a spokesman for Mrs. 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 five-year-old ring, which authorities say had a connection to organized crime in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, bet on National Hockey League (NHL) games. Mr. Gretzky is not the main focus of the probe, the person said.

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

Earlier in the week, Mr. Gretzky denied any involvement in the ring. Mr. Gretzky did not attend the Coyotes practice in Phoenix yesterday.

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 Mr. Tocchet, who was granted an indefinite leave from the NHL on Wednesday. “It’s improper, it’s unwarranted, and I will not tolerate it.”

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. Mr. Ulmer and Trooper James Harney are accused of taking wagers and cuts of the bets.

The accusations have sent shock waves through the hockey world.

State investigators said they will interview more hockey players who were thought 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.

Mr. Cleary said yesterday 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.

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


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