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Finance Chief Back on Stand in Olympic Bribery Trial

Finance Chief Back on Stand in Olympic Bribery Trial

Posted - Nov. 17, 2003 at 10:43 a.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The outside counsel for the Olympic bid campaign rubber-stamped checks to international delegates who awarded this city the 2002 Winter Olympics, the campaign's finance director testified Monday.

The lawyer, Kelly Flint, signed checks when others on the bid committee weren't available to add a second signature, said Rod Hamson, who was the finance director.

Hamson said he couldn't recall Flint ever questioning the payments made to delegates for the International Olympic Committee.

Hamson's testimony came under questioning by a defense lawyer for bid chief Tom Welch and deputy Dave Johnson, who are on trial accused of bribing IOC delegates for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Flint has not been implicated in the scandal, but Johnson lawyer Max Wheeler is trying to show that other staffers and board members knew or could have known about the payments the government contends were bribes.

"There were just scholarships being given, payments being made -- whatever you want to call them -- without any supporting criteria," Wheeler asked.

"Yes," Hamson said.

Rod Hamson is wrapping up six days of testimony under a grant of immunity after the defense accused him of his own wrongdoing.

Last week, defense lawyers confronted Hamson with evidence he may have pocketed more than $50,000 through double-dipping on expense reimbursements. Hamson, with a court-appointed lawyer by his side, said it would have been easy to mix up his expense records because other bid staffers used his personal charge card for more than 1,000 airfare transactions. He didn't admit improper behavior, however.

Some of the airfare transactions were canceled, giving Hamson a credit on his American Express card. Yet in 30 of those cases he took reimbursement by check, according to the defense and trial exhibits. He was accused of double-billing 27 other times for the same expenses.

Justice Department trial attorney Richard Wiedis gamely tried to show Hamson may have failed in other cases to correctly tally all of his legitimate expenses, but the damage was done, says a noted trial watcher.

"The problem with this case has always been the lack of moral distinction between the government's witnesses and the defendants," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told The Salt Lake Tribune in the paper's Sunday editions.

Two others, Salt Lake businessman David Simmons and former USOC official Alfredo La Mont, have pleaded guilty to tax charges in the bid scandal and will testify for the prosecution. Also waiting to take the stand are several Olympic trustees, who avoided prosecution by disowning knowledge of the bid executives' more questionable dealings with delegates for the International Olympic Committee.

Simmons, who was waiting Monday to take the stand, gave a job to the son of one IOC member whose salary was reimbursed by the bid committee.

La Mont, then international relations director for the U. S. Olympic Committee, moonlighted as a secret Salt Lake City consultant in charge of lining up Latin American votes.

Nearly three weeks after jury selection, the Justice Department has brought only two of its more than 40 declared witnesses to the stand.

Welch, 59, who was president of the Salt Lake bid and organizing committees, and Johnson, 44, who was senior vice president, are accused of conspiring to bribe IOC and family members with $1 million in cash, gifts and favors such as jobs.

Defense lawyers are trying to depict the gift-giving as so commonplace among competing cities that Salt Lake had to match the best of them. They argue the men's actions were not a crime.

That position has the defense trying to outdo the prosecution by showing how often Welch and Johnson showered lavish and unusual gifts on IOC members -- everything from rabbits to Princess Grace postage stamps.

While IOC delegates were officially limited to receiving gifts

of no more than $150, few of Salt Lake's gifts were that cheap, Hamson testified Friday under defense questioning.

The oddest gift appeared to be the $1,200 worth of rabbits Welch and Johnson shipped to Dick Pound, a delegate from Canada.

Outside court, Welch and Johnson said they shipped the Canadian-raised Dutch rabbits to answer Pound's challenge that the only way Salt Lake could beat Quebec City for the 2002 bid was by pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

It was a gift refused, however.

Pound's wife, Julie Keith, told The Associated Press the couple refused to accept delivery of the rabbits one Easter morning at their home in Montreal.

Hamson testified it wasn't just fancy shoes or clothing or Utah Jazz professional basketball tickets the Salt Lake City bid campaign bought for IOC delegates.

The bounty also included a collection of guns worth thousands of dollars, given to former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch; a $340 Nintendo game for the late Mohamed Zerguini, delegate from Algeria; $1,488 worth of bathroom furnishings sent to Russian delegate Vitaly Smirnov; and $264 worth of discontinued U.S. postage stamps bearing the likeness of Grace Kelly sent to her son, Prince Albert of Monaco.

The defense was using a scorecard Friday to show that 85 of the IOC's 100 delegates had accepted over-the-limit gifts by the final year of Salt Lake's bid campaign, even though only 10 delegates were expelled or forced to resign because of the scandal.

Welch and Johnson face 15 felony charges, including bribery racketeering and fraud, and could face four to 75 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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