Ex-trooper guilty, implicates Tocchet

  • In Gaming News
  • Mon, Aug 7th, 2006 11:36:00 am
  • By Staff Writer - Courier-Post

The state's Operation Slapshot investigation was about one thing right from the start -- taking down a corrupt police officer...

The state's Operation Slapshot investigation was about one thing right from the start -- taking down a corrupt police officer.

So said state Attorney General Zulima Farber and other top officials Thursday after a former New Jersey state trooper pleaded guilty in Superior Court in Burlington County to charges of conspiracy and official misconduct.

He also pleaded guilty to a charge of promoting gambling for his role in running a multimillion dollar sports gambling ring that took bets nationwide.

James Harney, who quit the state police on Wednesday, faces a seven-year prison sentence under the plea agreement he signed Thursday before Superior Court Judge Thomas Smith Jr.

Harney also characterized former Flyers player Rick Tocchet as his partner.

He could have received up to 25 years in prison and $315,000 in fines if convicted by a jury. Harney, 40, of Marlton, will forfeit more than $700,000 in personal assets such as a townhouse and expensive watch collection and will be banned for life from holding public employment in New Jersey. He was charged in February.

The former trooper also agreed to cooperate with the state's ongoing investigation of the South Jersey-based bookmaking enterprise that allegedly involved Rick Tocchet, 42, a former Philadelphia Flyer hockey player, and James Ulmer, 41, a Woolwich resident. The state agreed not to prosecute Harney on any other charges related to the gambling ring. But he remains open to civil lawsuits.

When asked about how he'd spend the last remaining months of freedom before his Oct. 27 sentencing, Harney's lawyer, Craig Mitnick, did the talking for him.

"Nobody said he's absolutely going in, did they?" Mitnick said while wading through a phalanx of photographers and reporters on the way out of the courthouse.

He quickly reverted to a "no comment" response when asked if he thought Harney could avoid prison time.

Farber, however, wasn't shy about saying what she thought would happen to Harney.

"I think he will do jail time, prison time," she said in the courthouse and again at a news conference immediately after the hearing. "There is a presumption of incarceration in this offense because it is a second-degree offense."

Pressed about the possibility of Harney avoiding prison, Farber said: "I would be shocked."

In a prepared statement released to the media Thursday, Tocchet's lawyer, Kevin Marino, contended the state Attorney General's Office, in its effort to legitimize Operation Slapshot, agreed to advise the sentencing judge of Harney's cooperation and permit the former trooper to argue for any legal sentence, including probation.

"He is not a concerned citizen acting out of a sense of civic duty," said Marino in the statement. "Rather, the former trooper is an interested party who has implicated Rick Tocchet as part of a bargain with the prosecution. Under that bargain, the Attorney General's Office agreed to drop the most serious charges against Harney, charges that could have subjected him to consecutive state prison terms and kept him behind bars for many years."

Harney didn't have good things to say about Tocchet, either, on Thursday.

Answering his lawyer's precise questions about the gambling ring, Harney said the former hockey player was a "50-50 partner" in the enterprise. He said Tocchet, who is on unpaid leave from his assistant coaching position for the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team, referred bettors to the bookmaking operation, accepted wagers, collected bets and covered losses.

Harney also accused Ulmer of funneling bets to him and taking a share of the profits.

Harney said he had between five and seven bettors and sometimes handled more than $1,000 worth of bets in a single day. In one 40-day period between Christmas 2005 and the 2006 Super Bowl, the gambling ring received more than $1.5 million in bets, which Harney described as typical for popular sports events.

The ex-trooper admitted he sometimes accepted bets while on duty, covered up his illegal activity and assured Tocchet and Ulmer that he wouldn't report them to police.

When Mitnick asked if the operation was connected to the Mafia, Harney replied, "No sir, not ever."

The state will continue to investigate possible organized crime connections and the operation's actual size, said Lt. Col. Frank Rodgers, the state police deputy superintendent of investigations. What Harney admitted to in court might not necessarily speak to the extent of the enterprise, he said.

Rodgers called Harney a "traitor" who violated the trust of his fellow troopers and the public, but noted Thursday was a good day for the state police force because its investigation got a dirty police officer off the street.

A grand jury has not convened to hear the charges against Tocchet and Ulmer, Farber said, adding her office was trying to move the case along as "expeditiously as possible." They are charged with promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy.

Marino said his client would "vigorously contest" an indictment. Ulmer's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., didn't immediately return phone messages.

This article is a reprint from the Courier-Post. To se the original article Click Here.

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