Coyotes' Tocchet to be arraigned in 7-10 days

Updated: February 9, 2006, 9:45 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet and his co-defendants, New Jersey State Trooper James J. Harney and James A. Ulmer of Swedesboro, N.J., will be arraigned in New Jersey Superior Court in Burlington County within the next 7-10 days, James Hagerty, the spokesman for the state Division of Criminal Justice, told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio.

Gambling Investigation
Sal Paolantonio talked Tuesday to Mike and Mike on ESPN Radio about the New Jersey gambling ring, in which Rick Tocchet has been implicated at the "highest possible level."
Listen to Paolantonio Insider

An investigation -- dubbed "Operation Slap Shot" -- by New Jersey authorities into the New Jersey-based gambling ring discovered the processing of more than 1,000 wagers, exceeding $1.7 million total, in a 40-day period. The bets were placed on professional and college sports, mostly football and basketball. Tocchet was implicated as the financier of the ring.

Hagerty said that Tocchet, an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes, will not turn himself in to state police before that arraignment date, which should be set later Wednesday.

Tocchet's lawyer, Kevin Marino, said in a statement that the "allegations that Rick Tocchet financed an illegal gambling operation with organized crime is categorically false and irresponsible."

"Rick is one of most respected men ever to play in the NHL, not just for his playing prowess but for his integrity, strength and determination. We deeply regret the attorney general's precipitious charges, and are appalled by the media frenzy. Mr. Tocchet will fight false charges with the same grit and resolve he displayed during his illustrious playing career," Marino said.

At the request of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Tocchet did not attend the Coyotes' game against the Blackhawks on Tuesday night. In a statement, the Coyotes said Tocchet "was flying back East this evening to address the allegations in a meeting with Bettman."

Speaking after the league's general managers adjourned their meeting Tuesday, Bettman said, "I have retained Robert Cleary, who is a former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, to do an internal investigation for us, and I'll be meeting with him first thing [Wednesday] morning."

Cleary was the lead prosecutor from 1996-98 in the case against the Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, who was sentenced to four lifetimes in prison on charges related to three deaths and the maiming of two scientists.

Cleary was the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey from 1999-02 and in the Southern District of Illinois in 2002.

Lewis said police investigators will interview other hockey players to get a sense of the scope of the gambling ring and to determine whether others should be charged.

At the arraignment, bail will be set for Tocchet by state Superior Court Judge John A. Almeida, Hagerty said.

Then, the state attorney general will present evidence in the case to a state grand jury. The grand jury investigation is expected to take as long as six weeks, at which time indictments are expected.

Investigators tell ESPN that the grand jury investigation will focus on those placing bets with the nationwide gambling operation allegedly headed by Tocchet, Harney and Ulmer to determine whether those bettors were simply gambling or were providing inside information on players and injuries to aid the gambling operation.

One of the lead investigators from the state police told ESPN that although there are no indications as yet that Tocchet and his co-defendants bet on NHL games, officials with the state attorney general's office have not ruled out that possibility, nor the possibility that NHL games were fixed.

Another focus of the grand jury probe will be the alleged ties of the operation to a South Philadelphia/South Jersey organized crime family, investigators told ESPN.

"Operation Slap Shot" revealed alleged ties to the Bruno-Scarfo crime family in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, authorities said.

Wayne Gretzky's wife, actress Janet Jones, was among those implicated, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because no bettors have been identified publicly.

Gretzky said that at some point his wife would discuss the allegations against her.

"First of all, my wife is my best friend," Gretzky said. "My love for her is deeper than anything. The reality is: I'm not involved, I wasn't involved and I'm not going to be involved. Am I concerned for both of them? Sure, there's concern from me. I'm more worried about them than me. … I'm trying to figure it all out."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.