How the mob, players mingled in Philadelphia; Crime family member associated with Flyers. $1.7 million cited may be fraction of action.
Toronto Star – Toronto, Ontario
Author: Rick Westhead and Jim Rankin
Rick Tocchet, a respected member of the hockey fraternity, allegedly brought his Rolodex of high-profile friends. James Harney, a New Jersey state trooper who spent hours on end alone in his patrol car, had the time to field bets, police say.
At some point in what New Jersey State Police allege was an illegal multimillion-dollar gambling scheme that may have started five years ago, the Bruno-Scarfo crime family in Philadelphia, allegedly became involved, perhaps providing help to collect debts, and set betting lines.
How Tocchet’s alleged gambling ring operated, and how profitable it might have been is emerging thanks to interviews with New Jersey State Police, a former U.S. state special prosecutor and lawyers who specialized in money laundering and racketeering cases.
Police allege that Tocchet, a onetime Philadelphia Flyers captain, met Harney a decade ago at a bar called Legends in a Holiday Inn near the Philadelphia arena where Harney worked as a bartender before joining the police force.
Legends was also a popular hangout for Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, the underboss of the Bruno-Scarfo family. As reported yesterday by The Philadelphia Inquirer, in that city, “rumours of wiseguys mingling with hockey players are nothing new.”
In the late 1980s, encounters were documented in FBI files, the paper reported. Tocchet’s name came up in connection with Merlino. During the ’90s, the name of Flyers’ captain and now Leaf Eric Lindros was connected with Merlino. In both cases, nothing criminal came of it, and in Lindros’s case, plenty of media frenzy resulted. Merlino claimed to have met Lindros a few times but denied they were buddies.
According to The Inquirer, he said he lost a lot of cash betting for the Flyers to win in a failed playoff run. Merlino, who is in prison, hung with the athletes who frequented Legends, and hit a number of the city’s popular bars and nightclubs. He befriended Tocchet and at least one other Flyer, according to information supplied to the FBI in 1990 by Richard Barone, a former Merlino associate who testified against the crime figure in an armoured car heist case, The Inquirer reported.
Barone, the paper said, told the FBI that Merlino had bet heavily on hockey, “often using information about injuries and players’ status that he had obtained from Tocchet.”
Nothing indicated Tocchet was aware of what Merlino was up to. Merlino, said one law enforcement figure who spoke to the Toronto Star, was a “degenerate gambler” who perhaps gathered seemingly innocuous tidbits that might give him an edge on a bet.
Police allege that Tocchet, Harney, a New Jersey resident named James Ulmer and members of the Bruno-Scarfo group were co- conspirators in a money laundering and gambling concern that generated $1.7 million (U.S.) over one recent 40-day period. While police haven’t revealed a common thread that connected Tocchet, Harney, Ulmer and the mob, they have said certain individuals who hold positions in the mob were seen “interacting with Harney,” Capt. Al Della Fave of the New Jersey State Police told The Inquirer.
Police have said they’ve obtained more than 1,000 betting slips related to the scheme.
“It’s borderline archaic, but it’s not as easy to erase information off computers,” said John Floyd, an Atlanta lawyer and former state special prosecutor who handled racketeering and money laundering cases. “If you figure each betting slip is maybe the size of an index card, well, that’s easy to incinerate. But if you’re putting that on computers, you better be sure that you can erase it completely, and that may not be easy with a top-notch forensic investigator.”
Court documents show that between Dec. 29 and Jan. 31, the ring allegedly took 594 bets worth $1,086,100.
An illegal bookmaking group could garner profits of as much as 15 per cent on total revenue, said Michael Framé, a San Francisco- based executive with the Framé Group, whose clients include companies that were the target of organized criminals. Tocchet’s alleged group might have generated as much as $163,000 in profit – in one month. In some cases the mafia has demanded as much as 55 per cent of profits.
“An OPP investigator spoke about the Triads crime family pursuing one person who hadn’t paid a gambling debt to a town outside Toronto from Macau,” Floyd said. “They tracked him down, blinded him, and severed every tendon in his body, several times so that surgeons couldn’t fix him. But they didn’t cut out his tongue so that he could tell people what had happened to him.”
Credit: Toronto Star