Sat, Aug 05, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Tocchet associate pleads guilty to charges

AP , MOUNT HOLLY, NEW JERSEY

Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet is seen during the Coyotes' first day of practice at the Glendale Arena in September last year. Tocchet allegedly financed a nationwide sports gambling ring in which about a half-dozen current NHL players placed bets, but not on hockey, authorities said. Tocchet has been on indefinite leave of absence from his coaching duties since he was charged.

PHOTO: AP

A former New Jersey state trooper pleaded guilty on Thursday to helping run a gambling ring and promised to help authorities with their case against former NHL star Rick Tocchet and others.

In a negotiated deal, James Harney, 40, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, promoting gambling and official misconduct. He faces up to seven years in prison at his sentencing on Oct. 27.

He had initially faced more than 25 years in prison.

The plea comes nearly six months after New Jersey authorities charged him, Tocchet and a third man, James Ulmer, with running a ring whose alleged bettors included a handful of current NHL players and actress Janet Jones, the wife of ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

Authorities have said they did not expect to charge any of the bettors with crimes, and NHL officials say there were no bets on ice hockey games.

Harney and Tocchet became friendly in the 1990s when Tocchet played for the Philadelphia Flyers and Harney worked in a bar near the arena where the team played.

Harney was suspended from the state police after he was charged in February. In a letter on Wednesday, he resigned, apologizing for "the disgrace which I have placed upon the Division, myself and my family."

State officials said that as part of the agreement Harney forfeited his right to work in a public position.

He will also forfeit some US$700,000 in money and property, including the New Jersey home where he lives and his equity in the home where his ex-wife and children live.

Police have said they took 32 watches and nine televisions from his home.

After the hearing, Harney did not comment. But his lawyer said he had been truthful and he hoped the other defendants would be too.

"My client is humbled," lawyer Craig Mitnick said.

No grand jury has been convened to consider the cases of the other defendants.

After Tocchet was charged, he took an indefinite leave of absence from his job as the top assistant coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, who are led by Gretzky.

Kevin Marino, a lawyer for Tocchet, said there are reasons to not believe Harney's claims.

"He is not a concerned citizen acting out of a sense of civic duty. Rather, the former trooper is an interested party who has implicated Rick Tocchet as part of a bargain with the prosecution," Marino said in a statement.

Gretzky has denied any wrongdoing. His attorney Ron Fujikawa said after the story came to light that he had received assurances from New Jersey authorities that the ice hockey great was not in any way a central figure in the criminal investigation.

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