Gretzky Lawyer: No Criminal Charges

Wayne and wife Janet Gretzky smile as they arrive for the annual NHL awards in Toronto on Thursday, June 24, 1999. Wayne Gretzky's wife and about a half-dozen NHL players placed bets _ but not on hockey _ with a nationwide sports gambling ring financed by Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet, New Jersey authorities said Tuesday Feb. 7, 2006. (AP Photo/Frank Gunn)
AP
Wayne Gretzky will not face criminal charges in connection with a multimillion-dollar sports betting ring busted in New Jersey last week, and he is unlikely to be called to testify against others in the case, his lawyer said Thursday.

Attorney Ron Fujikawa said he received assurances from New Jersey authorities last week that the hockey great was not in any way a central figure in the criminal investigation. That's not surprising, Fujikawa said, because Gretzky did nothing illegal.

"He is not a person of interest," Fujikawa said Thursday. "We have received no indication he is somebody who will be called before a grand jury. We have received assurances that he is at most a fact witness."

A fact witness is someone interviewed informally by authorities, the lawyer said.

Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones, also is unlikely to face criminal charges in the case, her lawyer said Thursday. Jones wagered more than $100,000 through the ring, a person with knowledge of the investigation has told The Associated Press; her husband was not directly implicated.

If correct, the attorneys' statements indicate that the first family of hockey at most placed wagers with the ring but had nothing to do with its operations.

Under New Jersey law, it is not a crime to place a bet, even if the wager is with a bookie. People who place bets for others can be prosecuted, however, as can people who profit off someone else's bets.

Jones' lawyer, Evan A. Jenness, said she expected Jones to be subpoenaed to testify in the case. She said no documents had been served as of Thursday.

"I've been told she's just a witness," Jenness said Thursday. "I'm quite confident that's the case."

Jones and Gretzky are in Italy for the Winter Olympics. Gretzky, head coach and a part owner of the Phoenix Coyotes, is executive director of Team Canada, the defending hockey champions.

John Hagerty, a spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, did not return phone messages left Thursday. ESPN.com reported that Hagerty on Wednesday said Jones and others could be called as witnesses but indicated she would not be charged.

Al Della Fave, a spokesman for New Jersey state police, said he could not comment on the investigation.

Jenness did not say whether Jones, an actress who lives in California, planned to cooperate with authorities.

The gambling operation allegedly was run by Gretzky's friend and Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet, along with two New Jersey men, including a state trooper. All three are scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 21 on charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy.

Last week, the NHL hired Robert Cleary, a former federal prosecutor who handled the Unabomber case, to investigate.

Cleary said he was not sure how long his work might take, in part because he wants to stay out of the way of law enforcement agents who are continuing to investigate.

Hockey players are prohibited from making NHL wagers, legal or otherwise. There are no rules that forbid them from placing legal bets on other sports.

With the NHL launching its own investigation into the alleged gambling ring, the National Hockey League Players' Association has been telling its members that their collective bargaining agreement gives them the right to counsel or players union counsel present during interviews, the association said in a statement released Thursday.

"In addition, the NHLPA has recommended that players investigated in connection with criminal proceedings retain counsel so that their legal rights are fully protected," the statement reads.