Gretzky Alleged To Be on Tape
Friday, February 10, 2006
Wayne Gretzky, hockey's most recognizable figure, was recorded on wiretaps talking to the alleged financier of an illegal gambling ring, discussing how to keep his wife from being implicated in the scandal that has jolted the NHL, according to two reports published yesterday.
Gretzky, the coach and part owner of the Phoenix Coyotes, was heard on wiretaps made in the past month talking about his wife, Janet Jones, with his associate coach Rick Tocchet, a person with knowledge of the investigation told the Associated Press.
There is no evidence that Gretzky placed any bets, according to the AP report, and after his team's 5-1 loss to the Dallas Stars last night, Gretzky defended himself, saying, "I didn't bet."
"I've done nothing wrong," Gretzky said during the postgame news conference in Glendale, Ariz. "I've done nothing that has to do with betting. That never happened.
"Lastly, I will say one more time, I didn't bet, it didn't happen, it's not going to happen. I've felt like the last three days I've defended myself over something that absolutely, unequivocably never happened, that I was not involved with. In saying all that, I hope you appreciate that the past three days have been horrible, and I'm just too tired mentally and physically to talk any more about it. . . . If you have any questions for people who are involved in this, you should contact them."
Gretzky said he does not plan to step down as Coyotes coach and will be traveling to Turin, Italy, where he will act as Team Canada's executive director. He did not take any questions after his comments last night.
Tocchet, a close friend of Gretzky's, was granted an indefinite leave of absence from his coaching duties by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Wednesday, one day after the former NHL all-star was charged by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office with financing a multimillion-dollar gambling ring whose clients allegedly included a half-dozen current NHL players. The ring, uncovered by the New Jersey State Police in "Operation Slap Shot", is also suspected to have ties to organized crime.
There is no evidence that any NHL players wagered on pro hockey games, but authorities have not ruled out the possibility.
The content of Gretzky's recorded conversations was first reported by the Newark Star Ledger in yesterday's editions and later confirmed by the AP. Both news organizations cited anonymous sources.
The Star Ledger's report said Jones was among the gamblers who placed more than $1.7 million in wagers during the past six weeks. Jones's wagers alone totaled $500,000, the paper reported, including $75,000 in wagers on the Super Bowl and the opening coin toss, winning $5,000 with that bet.
Jones, who has not been charged in the case, released the following statement last night: "At no time did I ever place a wager on my husband's behalf, period. Other than the occasional horse race, my husband does not bet on any sports."
During a meeting with Bettman on Wednesday, Tocchet was granted an indefinite leave of absence so long as he adheres to three conditions, including ceasing all communication and contact with NHL and club officials.
Tocchet's attorney, Kevin Marino, has maintained his client plans to fight the charges. Yesterday, Marino called the press leaks "outrageous."
"I've never seen anything like it in 20 years of practicing law, trying to taint a jury pool and prejudice defendants through leaks to the media," Marino said in a telephone interview. "I guess it's coming from the state police. It's outrageous. It's improper. I can't fathom behavior like this. And I won't stand for it."
The scandal has dealt yet another blow to the NHL, a league attempting to bounce back from losing last season to a labor dispute. The league will also conduct its own investigation.
It's not illegal to place a bet, New Jersey State Police Capt. Albert Della Fave said Tuesday, but it is against the law to act as a broker and profit from gambling.
Yesterday, the Arizona Republic reported Coyotes General Manager Michael Barnett placed a bet on the Super Bowl with Tocchet's alleged ring, quoting anonymous sources. Barnett used to be Gretzky's agent.
In addition to Tocchet, a veteran New Jersey state trooper and another man have been charged in connection with running the illegal operation. The arraignment hearings are scheduled for Feb. 21.