TRENTON, N.J. -- Former Philadelphia Flyers star Rick Tocchet financed an illegal sports betting ring that drew millions in wagers and whose clients included several other professional hockey players, New Jersey authorities charged yesterday.
Officials with the state police and state Division of Criminal Justice said Tocchet partnered with ''one of our own" -- a State Police trooper -- to run the gambling operation, which also had ties to the mob and at least one Hollywood star.
Tocchet, 41, also a former Bruin who is now an assistant coach for the Phoenix Coyotes, was served with a complaint summons Monday in Arizona and was flying to New Jersey to answer charges of promoting gambling, money laundering, and conspiracy in connection with a football and basketball bookmaking operation.
Three state law enforcement sources confirmed that Janet Jones, who is the wife of Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky, and former Flyers center Jeremy Roenick, who now plays for the Los Angeles Kings, were among those who placed wagers with the operation. The extent of their involvement was not known.
At the request of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Tocchet did not attend the Coyotes' game against the Chicago Blackhawks last night. In a statement, the Coyotes said Tocchet ''was flying back East this evening to address the allegations in a meeting with Bettman."
Authorities say that Tocchet financed the multimillion-dollar betting ring that operated mainly in South Jersey and Philadelphia, but extended nationwide. They said Tocchet's partner in the operation was New Jersey state police trooper James Harney, 40, of Marlton, N.J., who was arrested Monday on similar charges, plus official misconduct.
James Ulmer, 40, of Swedesboro, N.J., who investigators said helped the pair take bets, also was arrested Monday. State lawyers said he and Tocchet could face five to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Harney, an eight-year veteran of the force stationed in Moorestown, N.J., could face 20 or more years in prison, the lawyers said. If convicted, Harney, who has been suspended without pay, also would never be allowed to return to a government job.
Unlike the National Football League, the NHL does not ban players from betting on team sports -- as long as it's not hockey -- or associating with gamblers.
''While betting on football or other sports may be the pervasive issue, it in no way justifies poor judgment or otherwise alleged inappropriate conduct," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. ''We take this issue very seriously and will monitor the proceedings closely."
In announcing the results of what officials dubbed ''Operation Slap Shot," Attorney General Zulima Farber said there was good news and bad news.
''The good news first is that the operation was shut down successfully. The bad news is that it involved one of our own," she said.
At a brief news conference yesterday after the Coyotes' morning practice, Tocchet said he would cooperate with the investigation.
''It's not a hockey-related issue, it's a football thing," he said. ''And at this time I can't comment any further."
Gretzky, the Hockey Hall of Famer, said of Tocchet, ''Everyone in the world is innocent until proven guilty. He's a great guy and a good friend. He's just going through a tough time right now, obviously, and we've got to let it run its course. It's a situation that's obviously a concern for the organization at this point."
Asked about his wife's involvement, Gretzky laughed and said, ''Oh, really?"
Asked by the Associated Press about her involvement, he said, ''I don't know. You'd have to ask her that."
Attempts to reach Roenick were unsuccessful.
State Police Superintendent Colonel Rick Fuentes said investigators had received a tip in October that Harney was involved in a gambling scheme. With the help of a fellow trooper who went undercover to place wagers with Harney, Fuentes said state police were able to infiltrate the ring, which one official said was believed to have been operating for about five years.
Captain Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the state police, said Tocchet had met Harney years ago when Harney was a bartender at a Holiday Inn near the sports complex in South Philadelphia, and Tocchet a regular bar customer.
Fuentes said the gambling ring they built accepted bets mostly on college and professional football and basketball games. During one recent 40-day period, he said, the operation processed more than 1,000 wagers worth more than $1.7 million. State police said Harney was accepting bets on the job.
Fuentes noted that there was no indication that any of the hockey players had bet on their own sport.
In August 2004, law enforcement officials told The Philadelphia Inquirer that federal and local investigators in Florida found records that Roenick had paid $100,000 or more to a Florida sports-gambling operation that made millions by selling sports betting tips to gamblers. Roenick, in an interview then, acknowledged he had been a client of the firm but stopped betting after advised to do so by Flyers general manager Bob Clarke in January 2004.