Tocchet Plans to Fight Charges
Thursday, February 9, 2006
Phoenix Coyotes associate coach Rick Tocchet, charged on Tuesday by the New Jersey Attorney General as the financier of a multimillion dollar gambling ring whose clients allegedly include a half-dozen current NHL players, has been granted an indefinite leave of absence from his coaching duties by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Tocchet met with Bettman late yesterday to request the leave, which the commissioner agreed to so long as three conditions were met.
The former NHL all-star must immediately cease all contact with league and club personnel, and the leave of absence will not end without the commissioner's consent. Bettman also reserves the right to modify the terms of Tocchet's leave at any time, the league announced.
"We view the charges against Mr. Tocchet in the most serious terms," Bettman said in a statement. "We have pledged our full cooperation to the New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Attorney General's Office. While we are conducting our own investigation, we have made clear to the law enforcement authorities in New Jersey that we will do nothing to interfere with their ongoing investigation."
The league has hired former federal prosecutor Robert Cleary to conduct an internal investigation of Tocchet. Cleary was the lead prosecutor in the case against the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski.
In seven to 10 days, Tocchet, along with a New Jersey state trooper and another man, is expected to be arraigned on charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy in connection with the New Jersey-based gambling ring, which was uncovered during an investigation dubbed "Operation Slap Shot." The investigation's findings were made public on Tuesday.
The ring processed more than 1,000 wagers totaling more than $1.7 million during a 40-day period on professional and college sporting events, mostly football and basketball, authorities said. The gambling ring is also suspected to have ties to organized crime.
The investigation has not produced evidence that any of the NHL players placed bets on hockey, but John Hagerty, a spokesman for the state's division of criminal justice, said that possibility has not been ruled out.
"It's an ongoing investigation," Hagerty said by telephone.
Investigators were conducting additional interviews yesterday in an attempt to learn more about the scope of the ring, according to New Jersey State Police Captain Albert Della Fave. The investigation could continue several weeks.
Kevin Marino, Tocchet's attorney, called the allegations "irresponsible," adding, "Mr. Tocchet intends to fight these charges with the same grit and resolve he displayed throughout his long and illustrious NHL career."
News of Tocchet's alleged involvement -- and reports that Janet Jones, the wife of Coyotes Coach Wayne Gretzky, had placed bets with him -- sent shockwaves through the NHL. The story arrives at a sensitive time, with the league attempting to rebound from a labor dispute that wiped out last season, and with many of its players set to participate in the Olympics.
"I was shocked like everybody else," Washington Capitals defenseman Brendan Witt said. "It's not just Pete Rose -- it shows that it could happen in any sport. It's something the league doesn't need to be dealing with, especially coming back from the lockout. I would think the next couple of days we'll find out who all was tied into this."
Two law enforcement officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because no bettors had been named, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that Gretzky's actress wife was among those implicated. The Newark Star Ledger reported in yesterday's editions that law enforcement officials had traveled around the country last weekend to interview more than a dozen NHL players. Los Angeles Kings center Jeremy Roenick and Boston Bruins center Travis Green were implicated, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources.
"Whenever anything like this arises, the fear is that if athletes fall into debt, then bookies can put them in a position where they may be tempted to affect the outcome of a game," said Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. "It's sad that it's happened to the NHL because the league seemed to be bouncing back well from the lockout."
Tocchet won't have to turn himself in to authorities until an arraignment date is set. At that time, bail for the 41-year-old former Philadelphia Flyer will be determined.
Then, evidence will be presented by the state attorney general to a state grand jury. Once the grand jury's investigation is complete, indictments could be forthcoming.