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Harding’s Ex-Husband Charged : Olympics: Gillooly denies financing and plotting attack on Kerrigan. Confessed accomplice implicates Oregon figure skater.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Only hours after Tonya Harding announced she was breaking up again with her ex-husband, he was arrested and charged Wednesday with financing and plotting the attack on rival Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan.

Harding has not been charged, but investigators disclosed that a confessed accomplice, relying on secondhand conversations, had implicated her.

Jeff Gillooly, who was divorced from Harding last year but then reconciled and lived with her until Tuesday, surrendered to FBI agents and was arraigned on one count of criminal conspiracy to commit assault. He was freed on $20,000 bail. The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of 36 months in jail under Oregon’s sentencing guidelines.

With the fourth arrest in connection with the attack, authorities released their first detailed accounting of the case.

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Harding was said to have called a skating rink to inquire about Kerrigan’s practice schedule. The calls were made to a Boston-area rink on Dec. 28 at the time the suspected “hit man” was en route to try to disable Kerrigan, authorities said.

That attempt fizzled, but the attacker then rode a bus to Detroit, where Kerrigan was clubbed on the right leg on Jan. 6, just before she competed in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Her accuser also said he understood that Harding “was concerned about having made those phone calls and had stated that in the event she was ever questioned about them, she would say she had made those calls in an effort to get Kerrigan to sign a poster for a fan of Harding’s.”

The link to Harding comes from one of the more unusual figures in the case, a 300-pound acquaintance of Gillooly’s named Shawn E. Eckardt. Eckardt has been described as Harding’s bodyguard, but the FBI and sheriff’s investigation indicated that may have been invented to try to give the conspirators an alibi.

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Eckardt’s story of Harding’s involvement was not based on direct conversations with the skater, but from accounts of conversations he had with Gillooly.

Eckardt said he met with Gillooly and the two other men charged in the case in late December in Portland. Eckardt said the men agreed that Gillooly would pay $6,500 to have Kerrigan disabled--and they further decided it would be the skater’s right leg that would be bludgeoned because that is her “landing” leg for jumps.

According to the reports, Eckardt at first said Harding had no knowledge of the plot. But later Eckardt “recalled” Gillooly telling him that Harding made two telephone calls from her Portland-area home to the Troy Kent Arena near Boston to try to find out Kerrigan’s practice schedule.

Phone records from the Harding-Gillooly residence on Dec. 28 show four calls to Boston--one to directory information, one to the rink’s public number, which plays a tape-recorded schedule of operating hours, and two to the receptionist’s office at the arena.

Hotel records show that the alleged hit man, Shane M. Stant, traveled to Boston on Dec. 29 and stayed until Jan. 3. One call from his hotel room was made to Kerrigan’s rink.

Authorities said Stant was unable to carry out the assault in Boston, so he traveled to Detroit a week before the national championships and checked into a motel in Romulus, Mich., on Jan 4. He received a phone call there the next day from Gillooly and Harding’s home phone.

Investigators also released a detailed accounting of cash and wire payments that they say link Gillooly. The source of the cash was not described.

The summary of the investigation said the motive for the attack was simple and chilling: “To prevent Kerrigan from competing in the nationals, thus enhancing the chances for Tonya Harding to win the national championships and to proceed to the winter games.”

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Harding was questioned for 10 1/2 hours by FBI and local authorities Tuesday and denied any wrongdoing.

During the interrogation, a lawyer who is the husband of Harding’s coach issued a statement from her saying she was separating from Gillooly to concentrate on preparations for next month’s Olympics.

The two were married in 1990 and divorced last year. They reconciled in the autumn and resumed calling themselves husband and wife. Their relationship has been stormy and sometimes violent. Twice Harding obtained restraining orders to keep Gillooly away, and she told authorities he hit her with his fist and palm.

Harding and Kerrigan are the U.S. representatives to the women’s figure skating competition, although Harding’s position remains clouded because of the case. U.S. skating officials have said they will soon face a decision whether to keep Harding on the team.

Gillooly did not speak publicly Wednesday, but he and his lawyer have denied he was involved.

Also arraigned Wednesday was accused attacker Stant, who was was extradited from Arizona, where he turned himself in. The fourth man charged in the crime, Derrick B. Smith, Stant’s uncle, also confessed. Smith said he was paid $2,000 to drive the getaway car outside the Detroit ice rink.

Smith told investigators the money was paid by Eckardt, who said it came from Gillooly.

Investigators said Harding and Gillooly returned from Detroit, where she won the national championship, and were met by Eckardt.

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Eckardt told authorities Gillooly immediately began to worry about the trail of money and calls he had left. For three hours, the men plotted a cover-up story that Eckardt and Smith were “planning on entering into a business to provide security for ice skaters.” They believed the money and calls could then shield them.


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