Harney gets 5-year prison sentence in sports betting case

MOUNT HOLLY, N.J. -- A former state trooper who admitted to running a sports betting ring with a retired hockey star was sentenced Friday to five years in state prison.

While retired NHL player and Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet was the big name in the case, the trooper, James Harney, was the biggest catch for authorities.

Under a plea agreement he struck with prosecutors on Aug. 3, 2006, he could have been sentenced to up to seven years in prison for conspiracy, promoting gambling and official misconduct.

He got a break because he cooperated with authorities. Under state rules, he could be eligible for parole in about a year.

Deputy attorney general Mark Eliades said his help was good but not extraordinary.

Harney's defense lawyer, Craig Mitnick, told judge Thomas S. Smith that his client deserved prison time for his conduct -- but that it should be less because he helped authorities.

Mitnick said Harney gave authorities details of the case they otherwise would not have known about and said that without that evidence, Tocchet and a third man, James Ulmer, might not have pleaded guilty in the case.

"He immediately came forward and he said, 'I did that; that was wrong; that was horrible judgment,'" Mitnick said.

Eliades would not say exactly what information Harney provided.

Harney did not say anything in court Friday, other than answer "yes" and "no" to the judge's questions.

Smith said that because Harney was a public official, he would not sentence him to less than five years in prison -- the minimum for a second-degree crime.

When he entered his plea deal, Harney, 41, said that he and Tocchet were equal partners in the ring they had run together for five years.

Both Tocchet and James Ulmer are due to be sentenced later this month and could avoid prison under the terms of their plea deals.

The ring became one of the biggest stories in hockey back in February 2006, when the men were charged because authorities said several of the bettors were people connected to the game.

The only name that was ever revealed among them was Janet Jones Gretzky, the wife of legend Wayne Gretzky. Authorities said early on that neither she nor other bettors would be charged.

In the investigation that has followed, authorities and hockey officials have said there's no evidence that there was any betting on hockey.

But the betting was heavy on other sports. In the 40 days that led up to the charges, the ring handled $1.7 million in bets, including college football bowl games and the Super Bowl.

The business was lucrative for Harney while it lasted. When he was arrested, police took 32 watches and nine televisions from his home. He forfeited his home, his interest in his wife's home and cash.

Harney met Tocchet in the 1990s when Tocchet was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers and Harney tended bar at a hotel frequented by athletes.

After retiring in 2002, Tocchet became Gretzky's top assistant coach with the Coyotes but was placed on indefinite leave from his job after he was charged.

Under state law, he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. But, as his lawyer emphasized, the crimes he pleaded guilty to usually do not result in incarceration for people who have had no other brushes with the law. Authorities would not say whether they would request jail time when he is sentenced on Aug. 17.