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Time Line Clears Gretzky For Now

WWW- A wiretap recording of Wayne Gretzky talking to a pal about keeping his wife’s alleged gambling woes out of the spotlight was made after law enforcement officials spoke to the hockey great, sources told the Daily News last night.

The revelation appears to back Gretzky’s claim he knew nothing of a gambling ring that was allegedly operating right under his nose until investigators showed up last Monday at the Arizona home he shares with his wife, Janet Jones.

“He was totally surprised,” Jim O’neal, head of security for the Phoenix Coyotes, the hockey team Gretzky co-owns and coaches, told The Associated Press. “He said they told him, ‘We’re not here to see you. We just need to serve her with something.'”

O’neal said Gretzky called him after the surprise visit, from an FBI agent, a New Jersey state trooper and their Phoenix Police Department guide, asking for help getting hold of his assistant coach, Rick Tocchet.

Authorities contend Tocchet was at the center of the gambling ring, which allegedly included a New Jersey state trooper and took in $1.7 million in the five weeks before Super Bowl XL.

It was a subsequent call to Tocchet, also on Monday, in which Gretzky asked how he could keep the name of his actress and former Playboy model wife out of the case.

Reports published elsewhere indicated that Gretzky’s call came before he had official knowledge of the probe, calling into question his insistence the next day – when the investigation went public – that he had been in the dark.

“Published reports that Wayne had spoken to Rick Tocchet about his concern for Janet prior to officers appearing at Wayne’s house on Monday are completely ludicrous,” Gretzky’s attorney Ron Fujikawa told The AP. “It’s absolute balderdash.”

Last week, the retired NHL superstar denied making any bets, and Jones said she had never placed a bet for her husband, considered by many the greatest hockey player of all time.

After Thursday night’s Coyotes game, Gretzky said he was tired of talking about the charges and said reporters should “talk to the people who are involved.”

Saturday, after a Coyotes practice, Gretzky, who is preparing to go to Turin, Italy, for the Olympics this week, tried to put the issue to rest.

“Well, obviously it has been a difficult few days, but as I said the other night I talked about it, it’s a dead issue now.

“I remain supportive for my friend and obviously my wife. In saying that, I’m just going to get ready for the game tomorrow night and get ready to go over [to Italy] and win a gold medal [as Team Canada GM] Sunday night. Other than that, as I said the other night, I have no involvement.”

Gretzky, whose Coyotes played San Jose last night, will accompany the entire Canadian Olympic team to Italy on an overnight flight scheduled to arrive this morning.

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