Tocchet camp fights back

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

Rick Tocchet's lawyer was quick to cast aspersions yesterday on a former New Jersey state trooper who pleaded guilty to his role in a gambling ring in exchange for helping authorities build a case against the Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach.

James Harney, 40, pleaded guilty yesterday in Mount Holly, N.J., to conspiracy, promoting gambling and official misconduct. He faces up to seven years in prison at his sentencing Oct. 27 after initially looking at more than 25 years. Harney became friends with Tocchet in the 1980s and '90s when he was a bartender near the Philadelphia Spectrum where Tocchet played for the Flyers.

Kevin Marino, who is representing Tocchet, said in a statement that Harney was a "disgraced" lawman and "not a concerned citizen acting out of civic duty."

Marino added that: "To hold up his end of the bargain (Harney) must legitimize Operation Slap Shot, the state police investigation that supposedly uncovered a multi-million dollar organized crime connected gambling ring run by and for National Hockey League players."

Marino said Tocchet would "vigorously contend any charges brought against him."

Harney's plea comes nearly six months after Jersey authorities charged him, Tocchet and a third man, James Ulmer, with running a ring whose alleged bettors included some current NHL players and Janet Jones, wife of Coyotes' co-owner/coach 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 hockey games.

The league continues its internal investigation.

"Today's announcement doesn't really affect what we've got to do," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an e-mail to the Toronto Sun. "The investigation remains ongoing."

Harney was suspended from his position with the state police after he was charged.

In a letter Wednesday, he resigned from his job, apologizing for "the disgrace which I have placed upon the Division, myself and my family."


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