'I didn’t bet'
Feb. 9: Phoenix Coyotes coach and Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky says he is not involved in an alleged nationwide gambling ring.
TRENTON, N.J. - Wayne Gretzky reiterated that he had nothing to do with the gambling ring bust that has state authorities investigating his wife, assistant coach Rick Tocchet and NHL players.
The Phoenix Coyotes head coach also shed no light Thursday night on the wiretap recordings that have him talking to Tocchet, the ring’s alleged financier, about how the hockey great’s wife, Janet Jones, could avoid being implicated.
A person with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press that the wiretaps were made within the past month. Yet earlier this week, the Gretzky said he had no prior knowledge of the gambling accusations.
During a brief news conference following the Coyotes’ 5-1 loss Thursday night to Dallas in Glendale, Gretzky did not take questions or talk about the wire taps. He only said he had never bet.
“I’m still going to coach the Phoenix Coyotes. I did nothing wrong, or nothing that has to do with anything along the lines of betting; that never happened,” he said after the Coyotes’ 5-1 loss to Dallas in Glendale, Ariz. “I’m going to Italy on Sunday to be with Team Canada and be part of the Olympic games.”
“I’m going to say it one more time, I didn’t bet. It didn’t happen, not going to happen, hasn’t happened, it’s not something that I have done. ... I’ve felt like the last three days, I’ve defended myself over something that absolutely, unequivocally, I was not involved with.”
Gretzky also said he planned to stay with the Coyotes and attend the Turin Olympics as Team Canada’s executive director.
Jones allegedly bet at least $100,000 on football games over the course of the investigation by state authorities, a person with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press.
According to the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, there is no evidence that Gretzky placed any bets. Jones has not been charged.
Gretzky sounded weary on Thursday talking to reporters after the game for about two minutes.
“I hope you appreciate that these three days have been horrible. I’m just too tired mentally and physically to talk any more about it,” he said. “There’s nothing more for me to talk about. And if you have questions for people involved, contact them.”
Meanwhile, Phoenix general manager Michael Barnett also released a statement during Thursday’s game, addressing media reports that he bet on the Super Bowl through Tocchet and later met with investigators in New Jersey about the case.
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.
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.
Krista Niles / AP
Wayne Gretzky poses with his wife, actress Janet Jones.
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.
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.
The allegations have sent shock 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 there was.
The NHL has hired Robert Cleary, a former federal prosecutor who handled the Unabomber case, to investigate.
On Thursday, Cleary said he wasn’t 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.
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