Ex-NHL coach Tocchet pleads guilty in gambling ring

Former NHL player and coach Rick Tocchet pleaded guilty Friday to two charges in connection with an illegal sports gambling ring.

Former NHL player and coach Rick Tocchet pleaded guilty Friday totwo charges in connection with an illegalsports gambling ring.

Tocchet, 43, pleaded guiltyto conspiring to promote gambling and promoting gambling in a Mount Laurel, N.J., Superior Court.

During the hearing, Tocchet answered a series of yes or no questions from his lawyer, Kevin Marino. When asked if he ever bet on professional hockey, Tocchet said, "No."

Sentencingis scheduled forAug. 17, with Marino expressing confidence in a statement issued later Friday that his client would remain a free man.

"Today, following an exhaustive investigation by the Attorney General's Office, the state police's allegations were laid to rest when Mr. Tocchet pleaded guilty to third-degree gambling charges that essentially ensure that he will be sentenced to probation," the statement read.

Operation Slapshot, as it was called, was announced with much fanfare in February 2006. Tocchet was also charged at the time with money laundering, and faced up to 10 years in prison.

"I'm sure everyone remembers the manner in which this case was initially announced and described," Marino said. "I think today's plea speaks for itself."

Tocchettook a leave of absence as assistant coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, where he was serving under Wayne Gretzky.

Police said they had tracked over $1.7 million US in bets over a 40-day period, and it wasinitially allegedthat Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones, and playerJeremy Roenick had placed bets.

Jones and Tocchet filed notice last May of plans to suethe New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, the state police and the head of the state police public information office for allegedly defaming them by illegally releasing evidence from confidential wiretaps.

Any lawsuit must proceed within two years of that date.

2 others plead guilty in ring

Tocchet was alleged to have run the ring withNew Jersey state trooper James Harney.

Harney pleaded guilty last August to conspiracy, promoting gambling and official misconduct. With an original money-laundering charge dropped, he faces up to seven years in prison, not twenty.

A third man, James A. Ulmer, was charged with promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy. Originally facing up to 10 years in prison, prosecutors have recommended a sentence between six months and one year after Ulmer pleaded guilty to promoting gambling and conspiracy in December.

Gregory A. Paw, New Jersey criminal justice director, defended the investigation outside the courthouse.

"It's a huge operation and I think it exposes to people the allure of gambling, illegal gambling, in New Jersey," said Paw.

He declined to say whether the state would press for prison time.

Tocchet played with six teams over 22 NHL seasons.

Investigators said he had met Harney in the 1980s while a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Former U.S. federal prosecutor Robert Cleary, hired by the NHL after the scandal erupted, found no evidence in his investigation that the alleged betting ring was widespread or had influenced the outcome of hockey games.

Marino said to reporters that Tocchet has not spoken with the NHL about how his guilty pleas could affect his coaching career.

NHL spokesman Frank Brown said, "Today's development allows the league to complete its investigation of the matter. There is no timeline on when that investigation will conclude. We will not comment further."

Phoenix president Doug Moss echoed that sentiment, giving no specific comment on the development.

New Jersey State Police claimed early in the investigation that the ring had ties to the Bruno-Scarfo crime family, but have not spoken publicly about the alleged connection since.

With files from the Associated Press