Bettman monitoring illegal gambling allegations

2/11/2006 - NHL Phoenix Coyotes

TRENTON, N.J. -- Janet Jones Gretzky will accompany husband Wayne Gretzky to Italy for the Winter Olympics, a few days after she was
implicated in an alleged gambling ring involving NHL players.

Gretzky, the executive director of Canada's Olympic hockey team, previously said he was going to Torino this weekend. His wife was going, too, her publicist Elliot Mintz confirmed Friday.

Jones Gretzky allegedly placed bets with a gambling operation that
authorities said was financed by Rick Tocchet, Gretzky's assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes. She bet at least $100,000 on football, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation who has spoken to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Up to a dozen NHL players have been implicated, say authorities, but none has been identified or charged. There was no indication that any wagers were made on hockey games and no evidence Gretzky placed any bets, investigators said.

At a brief news conference following the Coyotes' 5-1 loss to Dallas on Thursday, Gretzky said, "I've felt like the last three days I've defended myself over something that absolutely, unequivocally, I was not involved with."

Meanwhile, an investigator revealed just how closely NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is monitoring the situation.

"He's plugged into what we're doing on a daily, even hourly basis," said Robert Cleary, the former Unabomber prosecutor hired by the NHL.

A second New Jersey state trooper was suspended in connection with the ring, and the state trooper charged this week with helping run the operation is now looking for a job, his lawyer said.

Authorities in New Jersey allege that Tocchet financed and helped run the ring, which took in a total of $1.7 million in wagers in the five weeks culminating in the Super Bowl.

New Jersey authorities on Tuesday announced charges against Tocchet, a New Jersey state trooper and a South Jersey man with running the gambling operation. All face charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy and are scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 21.

Cleary was hired Wednesday to find out whether and to what extent NHL players were involved in the betting ring. Bettman also told Cleary to cooperate with law enforcement whenever warranted.

While Bettman expects a thorough investigation, Cleary would not say if or when he would interview Gretzky, Tocchet or Jones.

A person with knowledge of the investigation told the AP on Thursday that Gretzky was caught on state wiretaps talking with Tocchet about his wife's alleged involvement in the ring and ways she could avoid detection.

The person said the wiretaps were made within the past month. Earlier this week, Gretzky said he had no prior knowledge of the gambling accusations. He reiterated that Thursday night but shed no light on the wiretap recordings.

Also Thursday, Phoenix general manager Michael Barnett -- Gretzky's former agent -- released a statement addressing reports that he bet on the Super Bowl through Tocchet and later met with investigators in New Jersey about the case.

"They informed me that my conduct has in no way violated either federal or state laws," he said.

The second trooper suspended was Sgt. Michael Kaiser. Authorities believe he knew of the gambling activity but did not report it, said a law enforcement official speaking on the condition of anonymity because suspensions are internal matters. Kaiser, a trooper for 21 years who earns a base salary of $90,785, was not charged with any crimes.

James Harney, the state trooper charged in the ring and suspended from the force, is now in the market for a job.

"He's got to support his children and himself," lawyer Craig Mitnick said.