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Thursday, February 16, 2006
Tocchet's N.J. court appearance is waived

By Mike Fish
ESPN.com

At the request of defense attorneys, the first court appearance has been waived for former NHL star Rick Tocchet and two others accused of participation in a multimillion-dollar gambling ring.

Lawyer: Gretzky won't be charged

TRENTON, N.J. -- 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.

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.

-- Associated Press

Tocchet, as well as New Jersey state trooper James Harney and James Ulmer, were scheduled for a first appearance and arraignment Tuesday before Burlington County Superior Court Judge Thomas Smith in Mount Holly, N.J.

The hearing was expected to be largely procedural and officials said the investigation would continue prior to seeking formal indictments from a state grand jury.

"The defense attorneys filed a request with the court to waive the appearance and the court agreed to do so,'' said David Wald, a spokesman in the attorney general's office. "The investigation continues.''

Kevin Marino, who represents Tocchet, confirmed Thursday that Judge Smith granted the waiver. He declined to comment on why it had been requested.

Later Thursday, Marino's office issued the following statement:

"On Feb. 15, Rick Tocchet requested that the Attorney General's office cancel his first appearance and carefully review the evidence against him. That first appearance, which had been inaccurately described as an arraignment, was scheduled for Feb. 21, 2006. This afternoon, the court advised Tocchet that his first appearance has in fact been canceled.

"In light of the illegal press leaks that have plagued this matter and the gross mischaracterization of this case that has appeared in the international media, we are extremely pleased that Rick Tocchet will not be subjected to the further public humiliation a first appearance would entail.

"We remain hopeful that when the Attorney General's office has completed its review of the charges against him, it will elect to dismiss this case rather than seek an indictment."

The brief hearing was expected to attract a huge media presence, with the only real business being the reading of formal charges and the setting of bail for Tocchet. Bail has previously set for Ulmer and Harney at $50,000 and $100,000, respectively. Tocchet will be processed later at a date to be determined, and the amount of his bail has yet to be determined, Wald said.

Marino had previously stated that Tocchet wouldn't offer any public comments at the hearing.