Olympic Bribery Trial: Opening Statements Set for Friday

Olympic Bribery Trial: Opening Statements Set for Friday

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Let the Olympic trial begin. After three days of careful jury selection, the defense and prosecution are scheduled to deliver opening statements Friday in the case that turns on how Salt Lake City won the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The judge planned to seat a 12-member jury plus two alternates after lawyers for both sides make their final choices Thursday.

"Sometimes justice is a slow process," a weary Tom Welch, 59, who was president of the Salt Lake bid and organizing committees, said Wednesday after six hours of jury picking in a judge's chambers.

Welch and the other co-defendant, Dave Johnson, have been sitting in since Tuesday on one-by-one sessions with jury prospects that lasted from five to 25 minutes each.

"We've been waiting for this trial for years," said Johnson, 44, who was senior vice president of the Olympic committee.

Welch and Johnson are accused of lavishing $1 million in cash, gifts and favors on International Olympic Committee delegates who awarded Salt Lake the 2002 Winter Olympics.

They face 15 felony charges that could bring them a minimum of four to six years in prison. A federal grand jury indicted them more than three years ago on five counts of racketeering, another five of mail, wire and "honest-services" fraud, four of violating the Travel Act and a single count of conspiracy.

The fraud charges allege they deceived Olympic trustees by secretly conferring gifts on IOC delegates. The defendants, however, maintain their trustees knew about the dealings. Five of Welch and Johnson's overseers, including board chairman Frank Joklik, have been named as prosecution witnesses.

It was apparent Wednesday that both sides were taking selection of a 12-member jury, plus two alternatives, seriously.

It takes only one holdout to prevent a guilty verdict. That seems to have prosecutors choosing jurors even more deliberately knowing they have to hold a trial in Utah where Welch and Johnson, once lauded as heroes, are considered by many to be scapegoats for past Olympic corruption.

The would-be jurors had to answer a 10-page questionnaire that asked, among other things, for them to name three people they admire.

Defending this closed-door practice in a judge's chambers, Johnson's lawyer, Max Wheeler, said it was not unusual in Utah's federal courts for high-profile cases.

"We have such a lot of publicity in this case, and we have to question each juror about what they know and whether they've formed an opinion," Wheeler said.

Welch was satisfied with the prospects remaining from an 83-member jury pool.

"This is a good jury. It's made up of people from Utah. I feel very good about it," he said.

Among government witnesses will be Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who is scheduled to be sworn in next week as chief of the U.S. Environment Protection Agency. Leavitt is expected to testify he didn't know about any questionable dealings with IOC delegates, but defense lawyers plan to subject him to a vigorous cross-examination.

They also plan to grill Anita DeFrantz, an American IOC member, on her knowledge of gifts given not only by Salt Lake City but also by Atlanta during the campaign for the 1996 Summer Games.

The government named 41 other possible witnesses, including Richard Pound, an IOC member from Canada who headed the IOC's investigation of the Salt Lake bid scandal; and Utah Republican Party chairman Joe Cannon, who sat on the bid and organizing committees.

The defense named 44 possible witnesses, including Billy Payne, who led Atlanta's Olympic bid and organizing effort, and Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor.

The trial almost didn't happen. In a series of rulings in 2001, Sam threw out the case, sparing Salt Lake City the embarrassment of a courtroom spectacle leading up or coinciding with the 2002 Games.

Then in April of this year, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver reversed Sam's order and said the bid leaders must stand trial.

Welch and Johnson received financial settlements from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee after their firings. The committee's insurer is paying millions of dollars for their legal fees, but if they are found guilty of any charges they are supposed to pay the insurer back.

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

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