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Lawyer disputes ring's tie to mob

A New Jersey-based gambling ring linked to Wayne Gretzky had no ties to organized crime, a defense lawyer involved in the case said Tuesday, contradicting the claims of state officials.

Officials have said investigators are looking into how deep mob involvement might have been in the sports-betting ring allegedly run by former hockey player Rick Tocchet - Gretzky's top assistant with the Phoenix Coyotes - and two other men.

"If they come up with a Bruno-Scarfo crime family connection, I'll pay their salaries for a year," said Charles A. Peruto Jr., the lawyer for James Ulmer, who is charged with promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy.

Peruto's comments referred to the La Casa Nostra family that has long dominated organized crime in the Philadelphia area.

"Lawyers' comments don't concern us," said New Jersey State Police Capt. Al Della Fave.

State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes has said the gambling ring - like many illegal sports books - had ties to the mob. So far, no organized crime-related charges have been filed in the case.

Ulmer, New Jersey state trooper James Harney and Tocchet, on leave from the Coyotes, were charged last week with running a 5-year-old sports-betting ring that officials say handled $1.7-million in wagers over a six-week period from late December until Feb. 5, the day of the Super Bowl.

The bettors included Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones, according to sources who have spoken on condition of anonymity, and also included several NHL players, officials have said.

Neither Gretzky, the coach and part-owner of the Coyotes, Jones, nor any other hockey player aside from Tocchet has been charged.

MIGHTY DUCKS: Anaheim defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh has been cleared to return to on-ice competition after a six-week stay in the NHL's substance-abuse program, allowing him to play for Latvia in the Olympics. The NHL and the players' association announced the move, a day before Latvia's Olympic opener against the United States in Turin. Ozolinsh, 33, voluntarily entered the NHL's substance abuse program in late December.