what a way to tarnish your name...
Embroiled in an illegal gambling scandal, Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet requested and was granted a leave of absence from the NHL Tuesday evening.
But that didn't stop NHL commissioner Gary Bettman from opening a league investigation of Tocchet, a well-liked former veteran player of 18 seasons.
“We view the charges against Mr. Tocchet in the most serious terms,” Bettman said in a statement Wednesday. “While we are conducting our own investigation, we have made clear to the law enforcement authorities in New Jersey that we will do nothing to interfere with their ongoing investigation.”
Tocchet stands accused by New Jersey state prosecutors with financing a U.S. gambling ring with ties to organized crime. The operation allegedly took bets from about a half-dozen current players, as well as Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky's wife, Janet.
The Newark Star-Ledger, citing two law enforcement officials who had seen the wiretap transcripts, is reporting that Gretzky, who earlier denied any knowledge, was aware of the gambling ring.
The report says there is no evidence that Gretzky himself placed bets, but suggests officials are looking into whether Jones placed bets on his behalf.
"The reality is, I'm not involved, I wasn't involved and I'm not going to be involved," Gretzky told reporters following Tuesday's game in Chicago. "Am I concerned for both of them? Sure there's concern from me. I'm more worried about them than me."
On the advice of his New Jersey-based lawyer Kevin Marino, Tocchet was not prepared to respond to specific questions about the allegations. But Marino pledged full co-operation with the league's investigation, which will be headed by former U.S. attorney Robert Cleary.
"We are fully co-operating with the league and certainly will be meeting with them," Marino told the Associated Press Wednesday. "We haven't met with them yet. I'm not going to discuss the exact time or date or place."
Cleary, a U.S. attorney in New Jersey and Illinois, was the lead prosecutor in the case against notorious American terrorist Theodore “Unabomber” Kaczynski.
Bettman set conditions for Tocchet's leave of absence, including:
- Tocchet immediately severing all ties from Coyotes and NHL personnel;
- Tocchet must receive the commissioner's consent for a return to the league; and
- The commissioner can alter Tocchet's punishment at any time.