Trooper charged in betting ring downplays allegations

Updated: February 13, 2006, 11:35 PM ET
By Mike Fish | ESPN.com

As questions swirl around an alleged sports gambling ring that has touched an NHL team's front office and hockey's first family, a New Jersey state trooper charged in the million-dollar bookmaking operation downplayed the allegations Monday night.

"I mean eventually everything is going to come out," James Harney told ESPN.com. "It is not what they say it is, I'll tell you that."

Law enforcement officials have said they launched the gambling probe, dubbed "Operation Slap Shot," in October after the New Jersey State Police Organized Crime Bureau uncovered information indicating Harney, an eight-year state police veteran, was a partner in a bookmaking ring. Harney, Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet and James Ulmer, described by investigators as a "sitter" who funneled wagers to Harney, all face charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy.

Capt. Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the New Jersey State Police, told ESPN.com that Harney worked the operation from his patrol car. "Well, obviously [with] Harney that is one of the big issues we have, is that he was doing it while on duty," Fave said.

Reached at his home in Marlton, N.J., Harney, 40, refused to comment on the specifics of the alleged scheme, but called the unfolding scandal a "circus." Harney, who also faces an official misconduct charge, was suspended by the state police last week.

"I'm really just taking time to worry about our two small children," Harney added. "They're young. I just really need to shield them from all this circus."

Tocchet's attorney, Kevin Marino, lashed out at authorities Monday for allegedly being the source of a story that cast hockey icon Wayne Gretzky in a favorable light. According to an unnamed source quoted by The Associated Press, Gretzky was heard on a wiretap asking Tocchet how Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones Gretzky, could avoid being named as a participant in the ring.

A person with knowledge of the investigation confirmed to AP that the wiretap was recorded last Monday, the day Gretzky's lawyer said New Jersey detectives showed up at Gretzky's home looking to speak to his wife.

Asked to confirm that this was the case, Marino told ESPN.com, "Absolutely not. And anybody that knows that information and confirms it for you is committing a crime. There is a statute that makes it a crime of the third degree, to reveal wire tape ... so anybody that has put that out in the public is violating the law. And there is only one place it could have come from."

Harney, authorities claim, was a bartender at Philly Legends in the South Philadelphia Holiday Inn when he first met Tocchet, who was then playing for the Flyers. The bar, located a few blocks from the city's sports complex, was then owned by Ron Jaworski, a former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback who for years has been an NFL analyst for ESPN.

Jaworski said Monday that GF Management, a local company, hired and fired staff, adding that he couldn't recall having met Harney. But Jaworski said he knows Tocchet, a popular Flyer at the time, and was stunned to hear of the gambling allegations.

"[Tocchet] was a terrific, phenomenal guy," Jaworski said. "Very active guy. Tremendous personality. Every time I saw him he was ultimately respectful -- at golf outings, fundraisers. Occasionally I would see him at breakfast. He didn't live too far from me. A class act. I'm shocked to hear the allegations."

Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com.