MOUNT HOLLY, N.J. -- The last of three men who ran an
illegal sports gambling ring for high rollers was sentenced to two years' probation Friday, drawing to a close a case that drew
international headlines because of a link to hockey's biggest star.
James Ulmer, 42, the least-known defendant in the case, faced
six months to a year in county jail under a plea agreement for his
role in the bookmaking operation with links to the National Hockey
League, the Phoenix Coyotes and coach Wayne Gretzky. But the judge
told Ulmer he would avoid jail if he stays out of trouble for the
next two years.
"I will," promised Ulmer.
The married father of two had no prior record but left "a paper
trail" of his illegal bookmaking by allowing bettors to deposit
money directly into his personal checking account, said his lawyer,
Edwin Jacobs Jr.
Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet, who was sentenced
to probation last week, left no such trail, lawyers for both sides
"My client, through his naivete, actually created the primary
pieces of evidence against him," Jacobs said.
The case became one of the biggest stories in hockey last year,
when Tocchet, former state trooper James Harney and Ulmer 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
actress-model Janet Jones Gretzky, who is married to Gretzky, and
authorities said early on that neither she nor other bettors would
Jones threatened to file a $50 million defamation lawsuit
against the state of New Jersey but has not done so.
Before sentencing, Ulmer apologized to the court and his family.
"I'd like to offer my humblest and most sincere apologies,"
Ulmer said, calling his criminal behavior "an aberration."
Tocchet was sentenced to two years' probation after pleading
guilty to the same charges as Ulmer -- conspiracy and promoting
gambling. He has been on leave from the Coyotes since the charges
were announced in February 2006.
Tocchet's involvement in sports betting triggered an
investigation within the NHL, ordered by commissioner Gary Bettman. Lawyer Robert Cleary, best known for
prosecuting Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, was hired to conduct the
NHL spokeswoman Bernadette Mansur said Cleary has not completed
Tocchet's future in hockey has not been resolved.
The state police Organized Crime Bureau began investigating the
ring in October 2005, after receiving information that a trooper
might be involved.
In the 40 days prior to the filing of the charges, the ring
handled $1.7 million in bets, including college football bowl games
and the Super Bowl, authorities said.
Harney, who was forced to give up his badge, was sentenced
earlier this month to five years in prison.
Ulmer, a medical supplies salesman from the South Jersey town of
Swedesboro, agreed in his plea deal to cooperate with authorities
and forfeit about $45,000 in gambling proceeds. He also paid back
taxes on $52,000 in gambling winnings for 2005 and 2006, Jacobs
"We're completely satisfied that the cases have now all been
resolved against all three defendants. That resolution included all
of the principle charges initially filed," said Mark Eliades, the
deputy attorney general who prosecuted the case for the state.
Burlington County Superior Court Judge Thomas S. Smith Jr. said
he would vacate Ulmer's six-month jail sentence if he completes
probation without further incident.