No resolution for Tocchet in gambling case

Updated: February 6, 2007, 10:54 PM ET
Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. -- A year after New Jersey authorities busted a multimillion-dollar sports betting ring that implicated hockey legend Wayne Gretzky's wife as a bettor, the most high-profile suspect -- former NHL star Rick Tocchet -- remains in legal limbo.

While the two other men charged in the case have pleaded guilty, Tocchet has neither admitted guilt nor been indicted by a grand jury. The charges were announced with fanfare on Feb. 7, 2006, in what authorities dubbed "Operation Slap Shot."

The case shocked the hockey world, but NHL officials said there is no evidence of bets on that sport. Authorities have said bettors in the case will not be charged. Both Gretzky and his wife have denied any wrongdoing.

The state attorney general's office said this month that the investigation is active and proceeding normally. Even two changes in attorney general in just over a year have not slowed work on the high-profile case, said Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the office.

Tocchet's lawyer, Kevin Marino, did not return several phone calls seeking comment. His client, meanwhile, remains on indefinite leave from his job as an assistant coach to Gretzky on the Phoenix Coyotes.

Law experts not involved in the case say the length of time without an indictment after the charges were filed might be a sign of problems in the investigation or simply its complexity.

"Waiting a year suggests the evidence may not be as strong as they'd like," said George C. Thomas, a professor at the Rutgers University School of Law in Newark.

But Mike Pinsky, a prominent New Jersey defense lawyer, said it's not unusual for the state attorney general's office to take more than a year to comb through evidence between filing charges and seeking an indictment.

"With wiretap cases, I don't consider a year a long time for a state grand jury," Pinsky said. "After year and a half or two years, I'd wonder what's going on."

Authorities said Tocchet, New Jersey State Trooper James Harney and a third man, James Ulmer, collected $1.7 million in bets over a 40-day stretch in 2005 and 2006 that included college football bowl games and the Super Bowl. NHL officials said there is no evidence anyone in the ring wagered on hockey.

Harney and Ulmer both pleaded guilty last year and agreed to cooperate with authorities. Harney faces up to seven years in prison; prosecutors said they would recommend less than a year in jail for Ulmer.

When he entered his plea in August, Harney said the ring lasted about five years and that Ulmer and Tocchet both brought in gamblers and received portions of the proceeds.

Under New Jersey law, it is not a crime to place a bet, even if the wager is with a bookie. People who place bets for others can be prosecuted, however, as can people who profit off someone else's bets.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press