Judge Halts Olympic Bribery Trial

Judge Halts Olympic Bribery Trial

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Federal judge David Sam called an unexpected three-hour break in the Olympic bribery trial Thursday morning.

The delay came as the government ran into trouble with its star witness, former bid finance director Rod Hamson, who reportedly was appointed a federal defender.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers for the two indicted Salt Lake Olympic bid executives left the federal courthouse after Sam, in his chambers, halted Thursday's trial session before it could begin.

It was to be Hamson's fifth day of testimony. But just before the end of Wednesday's trial session, the lawyers for bid chief Tom Welch and deputy Dave Johnson showed documents suggesting Hamson was twice reimbursed for travel expenses for International Olympic Committee members who awarded Salt Lake the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Max Wheeler, Johnson's lawyer, planned to continue this line of questioning Thursday, but Welch said the revelation could be grounds for a mistrial.

I don't think anything's happened yet," Welch said outside the courthouse. "It's like Jell-O setting up."

Both sides were waiting for the judge to announce some kind of decision at 11 a.m. that could determine whether Hamson can remain a government witness.

Welch said the government's case was on the ropes.

"I think this whole trial has been good for the defense," he said.

The government suffered a setback early in the 2-week-old trial when the judge threw out some key government evidence -- the so-called "geld" file that detailed the personal and family needs of IOC delegates.

Sam ruled the authenticity of the file, which was found on a discarded computer disk, was in doubt.

Hamson's testimony for the government also was thrown in doubt late Wednesday when Wheeler suggested the former bid staffer was reimbursed for booking flights that IOC delegates never took.

Documents suggested Hamson got a credit on his American Express card for the canceled flights after receiving a check from the bid committee for the same expenses. These same payments figure in the indictment of Welch and Johnson, who are accused of bribing IOC members for the 2002 Winter Games.

Hamson was uncertain whether he made a mistake filing for expense reimbursement. That's when Sam called an end to the day's trial session.

Asked Thursday about the prospects for a mistrial, Wheeler said, "There's always a chance anything could happen."

Justice Department trial attorneys Richard Wiedis and John Scott declined comment as they packed up their bags and left the courtroom, apparently to speak with Hamson and his new lawyer.

Wheeler was hammering away at the government's case Wednesday, offering justification for payments the government contends were bribes.

Welch and Johnson regularity signed rounded, five-figure checks for IOC visitors as "reimbursement" for worldwide, first-class travel and lodging and other expenses. The VIPs also got payments wired directly to their bank accounts.

Wheeler started with budget documents for the $6.4 million bid for the 2002 games.

"It's all right there. You just have to look," Wheeler said.

The multiyear budget listed escalating budget lines for such things as "promotional materials" -- formerly labeled and known as "gifts" for IOC members inside the bid organization. In the final year of Salt Lake's bid campaign, a board-approved budget revision more than tripled to $345,000 funding for a program closely associated with scholarships and living expenses in the United States for relatives of the foreign Olympic officials.

The government contends all of these payments were bribes Welch and Johnson paid without the consent of their board, but it's having trouble proving either allegation.

Wheeler had to show just one board-approved budget document to discredit the government's theory. It named all six IOC relatives who were receiving scholarships and cast doubt on trustees' claims to federal agents they never approved such spending.

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

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