Canadian team unfazed by Gretzky link to probe

Updated: February 10, 2006, 6:05 PM ET
ESPN.com

Michael Chambers, the head of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said Friday that Wayne Gretzky -- who is trying to stay an arm's length away from a gambling probe that reportedly includes his wife and assistant coach -- is not only welcomed at the Torino Games but that he won't taint the Olympic movement.

Melrose on Gretzky
ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose talked with Jason Smith on Friday and said that Wayne Gretzky should not be fired.Insider

"It doesn't compromise any ethical or Olympic standard," said Chambers, the COC president. "My understanding is that there is no evidence that any Olympians have been involved in any immoral conduct, whether it be gambling, if one can describe it as that, or anything else. It is outside the envelope right now."

Meanwhile, the lawyer for James Ulmer, who is accused -- along with Phoenix Coyotes associate coach Rick Tocchet and State Trooper James Harney -- of taking wagers and cuts of the bets in the New Jersey gambling ring, scoffed at the probe in an interview with ESPN.com's Mike Fish.

"The thing is almost vomitous when you consider how much money was spent on this investigation, and what it really is that they are investigating," said Charles A. Peruto Jr., who represents Ulmer. "It is really friends, all friends, making friendly wagers with each other, where sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. And to put this much resources in it because you have some big names in it is almost shocking. It is all taxpayer money."

Authorities say that 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, allegedly run by Ulmer, Harney and Tocchet. All face charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy and are scheduled to be arraigned in Superior Court in Mount Holly, N.J., on Feb. 21, the state attorney general's office said Thursday.

Gretzky, speaking Thursday night in Phoenix, said, "I've felt like the last three days I've defended myself over something that absolutely, unequivocally, I was not involved with."

Operation Slap Shot
At A Glance
An undercover investigation by New Jersey state police identified an alleged sports gambling ring that authorities say had been in operation over the last five years. Dubbed "Operation Slap Shot" by authorities, the ring discovered the processing of more than 1,000 wagers, exceeding $1.7 million, on professional and college sports. Law enforcement officials continue their investigation, but have said the case involves professional hockey players. Here's a look at the people charged or otherwise implicated thus far:

• Rick Tocchet, associate coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. Tocchet, 41, played 18 NHL seasons between 1984 and 2002, including 11 with the Philadelphia Flyers. He's one of only four players in NHL history to collect 400 goals and 2,000 penalty minutes.

He was expected to be arraigned in Superior Court in Burlington County within two weeks on charges promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy.

• James Harney, 40, of Evesham Township, an eight-year veteran of the state police. Authorities say he became friendly with Tocchet about 10 years ago when he was a bartender at a Philadelphia Holiday Inn that Tocchet frequented. After he was charged with official misconduct, promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy, he was suspended from the his job. He is free on $100,000 bail.

• James Ulmer, 40, of Woolwich Township, was charged with promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy. Authorities said he funneled wagers to Tocchet. He is free on $50,000 bail.

• Janet Jones, 45, wife of hockey great Wayne Gretzky. An actress, she has appeared in "The Flamingo Kid" and "A Chorus Line." Law enforcement officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said she was one of the bettors.

-- Associated Press

Chambers said the Canadian Olympic Committee isn't concerned that Gretzky, who leads the Canadian hockey delegation, will be a distraction.

"That is in North America. That is not here," he said. "It may make its way here over the Web and whatnot, but that is not being talked about among the Canadian team. That is an NHL issue, that's an issue for those who may be involved, but it is not an issue for the Canadian Olympic team and it won't be."

Chambers said that Gretzky will leave for Italy on Monday, as scheduled, after Phoenix plays its last game before the NHL's Olympic break.

"Mr. Gretzky is very capable of dealing with this story on his own accord, and we see nothing in this story that requires any Olympic response at this time," Chambers said.

Gretzky's wife Janet Jones, who allegedly wagered $500,000 through the ring, has not been interviewed by the New Jersey State Police, which is conducting the investigation. But she is planning to be in Torino, Italy, for the Olympics, her publicist Elliot Mintz told Fish.

Peruto, in an interview with ESPN.com, said his client will be exonerated. He also downplayed the amount of money reportedly running through the ring.

"It is a lot of money, but it goes back and forth and back and forth," he said. "Some weeks you win and some weeks you lose. If you took a poll of how many people make these wagers with other people, [you'd] be amazed at the normal joes. But when you take the same amount of money they took to investigate this and take it down, for want of a better word -- it can make you sick."

He declined to get into specifics about how the betting ring worked, but said, "There is nobody in this that doesn't know each other."

Captain Al Della Fave of the New Jersey State Police disagreed.

"It is beyond that," he told ESPN.com. "And every day it gets bigger, because now that the thing has broke and hit the media, we got people calling us wanting to talk to us. They're concerned that maybe they were doing something illegal and they want to get their story out before we come to them. So with each one of those calls, it just adds more creditability to the investigation."

Peruto wouldn't comment on whether others, including hockey players, were involved in the ring. But he said there were odds involved.

"Well, there are odds on every bet," he said. "And it doesn't mean they are not betting amongst friends. I mean, these guys know how sports works. What team is favored. What team needs points. All that stuff. That doesn't make it any worse of a crime. It just makes them more knowledgeable. You can't be penalized for that."

Peruto declined on several occasions to describe how Ulmer knew Tocchet or the others. He also said he wouldn't get into the specifics of the case.

"Let me just say that there is a conspiracy charge here, and I don't want to help the government prove a conspiracy," he said.

Information from ESPN.com's Mike Fish and The Associated Press is included in this report