Evidence aids Gretzky’s case

By Beth DeFalco and Angela Delli The Associated Press

Specific information on when a wiretap conversation was recorded appears to support Wayne Gretzky’s contention that he had no prior knowledge of an illegal gambling ring involving his wife and Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet.

New Jersey state police wiretapped a conversation of Gretzky asking Tocchet how Gretzky’s wife, Janet Jones, could avoid being named as a participant in the ring happened last Monday – the day after Jones allegedly won money betting on the Super Bowl, sources told The Associated Press.

A person with knowledge of the investigation confirmed the wiretap was recorded last Monday, the day Gretzky’s lawyer said New Jersey detectives showed up at the Phoenix coach’s doorstep looking to speak to his wife.

“Published reports that Wayne had spoken to Rick Tocchet about his concern for Janet prior to officers appearing at Wayne’s house on Monday are completely ludicrous,” said Gretzky’s attorney, Ron Fujikawa. “It’s absolute balderdash.”

On Tuesday, New Jersey authorities announced charges against Tocchet, a New Jersey state trooper and another New Jersey man for running a nationwide sports gambling operation. State police said wagers – primarily on professional football – exceeded $1.7 million in the five weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

Gretzky, revered as hockey’s greatest player and now in his first season as Phoenix’s coach, said he was unaware of any gambling accusations until Tocchet called him last Monday night.

But when reports surfaced that a wiretapped conversation between Gretzky and Tocchet happened within the last month, questions over whether Gretzky knew about the ring before authorities contacted him last Monday spawned a publicity firestorm.

In all, Jones bet at least $100,000 on football, sources said. Jones has not been charged with any crime but is expected to be subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury investigating gambling activity, attorneys said.

Jim O’Neal, Coyotes head of security, said he received a call from Gretzky last Monday afternoon saying authorities showed up asking to speak with his wife, who was at the couple’s Los Angeles home.

“He was totally surprised,” O’Neal said. “He said they told him, ‘We’re not here to see you. We just need to serve her with something.'”

Gretzky’s attorney and O’Neal denied reports that New Jersey authorities surprised Gretzky and Jones at their Arizona home on Super Bowl Sunday, as a New York newspaper reported.

Tocchet also learned of the criminal investigation last Monday, O’Neal said, when he was served with a criminal complaint by New Jersey detectives at a Scottsdale restaurant. O’Neal said he helped broker the meeting between Tocchet and authorities.

“I filled Wayne in. I said I was meeting the two investigators … to serve Rick Tocchet with a summons,” O’Neal said. “Wayne called me back and asked Rick to give him a call.”

A message left at the office of Tocchet’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, was not returned yesterday.

A handful of NHL players have been implicated in the ring, authorities say, but none have been identified or charged. Strictly speaking, it is not a crime to place a bet, but NHL players would be violating league rules if they wagered on hockey games. There is no evidence of wagering on hockey, according to the former federal prosecutor investigating the allegations on behalf of the NHL.

The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and state police said yesterday the agencies would not comment on a pending criminal investigation.