Tocchet scheduled to appear in court Friday

Updated: May 25, 2007, 11:17 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. -- Rick Tocchet, the former hockey star and Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach at the center of a gambling ring investigation, was due in court at 11 a.m. Friday.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, citing sources familiar with the investigation, reported Friday that Tocchet would plead to lesser charges after reaching a deal with New Jersey prosecutors.

But David Wald, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, which announced the scheduled appearance, would not say whether a plea deal has been reached in the case, the Newark Star-Ledger reported Thursday. Tocchet's attorney, Kevin Marino, and Wald declined comment.

"I can't give any information today about that hearing tomorrow other than to say the hearing is taking place and Tocchet will be there," Peter Aseltine, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, told ESPN.com on Thursday. "Obviously, we put out an advisory and the implicit message is folks will want to be there."

Tocchet, 42, was charged, with much fanfare, in February 2006 with promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy.

Authorities said the bettors in the case included Janet Jones, the wife of hockey legend and current Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky, and some others connected with hockey who were not identified.

More than 15 months after the charge, Tocchet had still not been indicted or formally charged by a grand jury.

He has been on indefinite leave from his Coyotes job since the charges were announced.

In the meantime, the two other men charged in the case pleaded guilty and agreed to help prosecutors.

Former state trooper James Harney pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy, promoting gambling and official misconduct and faces up to seven years in state prison when he's sentenced.

Businessman James Ulmer pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy and promoting gambling. Prosecutors said they would ask a judge to sentence him to less than a year in jail.

Aseltine told ESPN.com that although Harney and Ulmer have not yet been sentenced, some information could be forthcoming Friday.

When Harney pleaded guilty last year, he and his lawyer gave a detailed account of how the gambling ring worked.

Harney said he and Tocchet were equal partners in the ring. The hockey star brought in six bettors and shared revenue with the former trooper. Tocchet would sometimes cover losses, he said. Ulmer had a smaller role, he told a judge, bringing in bettors and getting a percentage of their losses.

Harney said that mobsters were not involved in the ring, which he said operated for about five years.

Authorities said the ring handled $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 hired a lawyer to investigate and say there is no evidence anyone in the ring wagered on hockey.

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.

In this case, authorities have said no bettors would be charged.

Information from ESPN.com investigative reporter Mike Fish was used in this report.