Thursday, February 09, 2006

You Read It Here First

Alert SportsMatters readers will recall that in our first batch of updates to the Tocchet story we guessed that Gretzky knew what was going on.

The clue was in his language. First there was the declaration of love for his wife, rather than an outraged denial or assertion of her innocence. Second, there was the “see no evil” language of his personal defence: “I’m not involved. I wasn’t involved. I’m not going to be involved.”

Wayne sounded like the kid who doesn’t toke, but neither does he leave the alley when his buddys are passing a joint. ‘I’m not doing it,’ he rationalizes. And then a cop walks up and the kid realizes that his defence won’t get him very far.

Now the New-Jersey Star-Ledger has confirmed our suspicions, with a report that:
State wiretaps in the unfolding NHL betting scandal caught Wayne Gretzky discussing the multimillion-dollar gambling operation run by his friend Rick Tocchet before the ring was dismantled Monday, according to law enforcement sources…The sources said authorities are considering whether to issue a subpoena ordering Gretzky to testify before a state grand jury.
The Star-Ledger also expands on our list of NHL players implicated. On Tuesday reports put Mark Recchi on the list. Jeremy Roenick and Travis Green have now been added. Reports indicate the dirty half-dozen have grown to a full dozen. With wiretaps and betting slips in play, who knows how many more will be added.

Roenick (2001-04) and Recchi (1999-2004) played on the same Flyer’s squads as Tocchet, who was with the team from 1998-2001.

The Phoenix connections go back farther. Tocchet was with the club from 1997-2000, which overlaps with Green’s service (1997-2000) and Roenick’s (1998-2001).

The question we’re left with is an obvious one. Green didn’t play for Philadelphia. That means that either Green and Tocchet stayed in-touch from their playing days and Green was invited into the ring later, or the gambling ring has been going on for years.

Other evidence leans heavily towards the theory that this is a long-standing racket.

Tocchet and Harney are said to have met when Tocchet first played for the Flyers and Harney was a bartender at the Holiday Inn near the rink.

According to the Mercury News, Philadelphia players have long-mingled with the Jersey mob:
During Tocchet's time with the Flyers in the late 1980s, his name was linked to South Philadelphia mobster Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino in FBI reports.
And in the mid-1990s, Flyers captain Eric Lindros' name was intertwined with Merlino's in the same kind of media frenzy surrounding the current case.
In neither instance were there charges of criminality.
Authorities said the ring had been in operation for about five years. They said that the investigation was continuing and that more charges could result.
Harney, an eight-year state police veteran, was a bartender at Legends in the South Philadelphia Holiday Inn when he first met Tocchet, investigators said. The bar, a few blocks from the city's sports complex, has been popular with athletes and wiseguys over the years.
Merlino, who hung out in Legends before he was jailed in 1999, apparently met Tocchet in the late 1980s, according to information provided to the FBI.
Tocchet and at least one other member of the Flyers socialized with Merlino in several popular bars and nightclubs around the city, including the Saloon and the Monte Carlo Room, according to information supplied to the FBI in 1990 by Richard Barone, a former Merlino associate who testified against Merlino in a federal armored truck heist case.
Barone, during debriefing sessions with the FBI, said Merlino had bet heavily on hockey games, often using information about injuries and players' status that he had obtained from Tocchet.
After Tocchet first left the Flyers in 1992, Merlino continued to move up the organized crime ladder in the city. By 1996, he was the reputed underboss of the crime family and a celebrity in his own right.
About that time, rumors, fueled in no small part by a local sports-talk radio station, hinted at a relationship between Merlino and Lindros. The two were said to be "hanging out" together in popular night spots.
Merlino, never shy when it came to the media, said the rumors were without foundation. He claimed to have met Lindros two or three times, but denied he and the Flyers star were buddies. He said any insinuation that his ties to Lindros benefited the mob's gambling operations was ludicrous.
Based on all this I stand by my first assertion, that the charges are a serious threat to the integrity of the NHL and other sports.

This will get a lot worse before it gets better. Which means our hockey-mob-gambling scandal needs a good name.

Operation Name the Scandal is now underway in the Comments section. Be creative! Names ending in –gate will automatically be disqualified.

UPDATE: We were all hoping that Janet Jones's involvement amounted to $100 on the Superbowl. But Sportsnet puts her wagers at $500,000 over the period of the investigation (about a month), and a whopping $75,000 on the Superbowl alone. That sounds like a serious gambling problem.

It might also explain (a) why Gretzky showed up on a wiretapp talking with Tocchet about the gambling, and (b) why he returned to a bench job, after disclaiming any interest. At the rate she's betting, maybe they need the money.

The scale of the wagering also makes the organized crime link much more alarming for the NHL. Did Janet end up passing along the contents of conversations with her husband (e.g. upcoming trades, player injury reports) to Tocchet? Is her 'account' up to date, or is there serious money owed?

Suggestion: Janet, Wayne and the Coyote's organization all need their own legal counsel. Yes, husband-and-wife communication is privileged. But there is no guarantee that the three parties have the same interests in this matter.


At 11:20 AM, Blogger theDrizzler said...

I think we should call it the "over/under" scandal. Over in that our fealess Team Canada leader and his buxom bride are in over their heads and under, as in, Gretzky may find himself six feet under if he is forcred to testify against organized crime.

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

New thought: Where are the FBI in all this?

Tocchet in Arizona, the connections in Jersey, and participants all over the place, I'm 'betting' that there were interstate communications involved. And that spells big trouble.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger theDrizzler said...

You have to think the Patriot act has to come in handy eventually. What better way to show it off than to spy on Canada's greatest living legend.

Never trust a Ukrainian. Ever.

At 11:06 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

How about "Operation Against All Odds"?

"So take a look at me now,
Oh there’s just an empty space,
And there’s nothing left here to remind me,
Just the memory of your face"


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