Olympic Bribery Trial: Jury Selection Continues

Olympic Bribery Trial: Jury Selection Continues

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The same day he was confirmed to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt was named a key witness in the Olympic bribery trial.

On the trial's opening day Tuesday, federal prosecutors listed the Republican governor as their witness, but defense lawyers are eager to challenge Leavitt's account that he knew nothing about the bid-rigging scandal. The defendants maintain otherwise and promise a withering cross-examination for Leavitt.

Jury selection resumed Wednesday in the case against bid chief Tom Welch, 59, and his deputy, Dave Johnson, 44, the men accused of lavishing $1 million in cash, gifts and favors on International Olympic Committee delegates who awarded Salt Lake the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Jury prospects were being questioned individually in the judge's chambers at a pace that went through only about a third of the 83-member pool by mid-morning Wednesday. The trial could last six weeks.

Welch and Johnson, meanwhile, were included on a list of 44 defense witnesses read by their lawyers to prospective jurors on Tuesday. That means they may take the stand in their own defense.

But "it may not come to that," Welch said as he left the courthouse Tuesday. The defense plans to ask U.S. District Judge David Sam to dismiss charges for lack of evidence after the government presents its case.

It wouldn't be Sam's first time. He threw out the case two years ago, but a federal appeals court reinstated the charges last April. Welch and Johnson are charged with racketeering -- a charge anchored by Utah's commercial bribery law -- fraud and conspiracy.

Others on the defense witness list include former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who helped bring the 1996 Summer Games to his city; Billy Payne, an Atlanta businessman who headed the 1996 Games; and IOC Vice President James Easton of Van Nuys, Calif.

The government's 43 witnesses include Leavitt; Anita DeFrantz, an American member of the International Olympic Committee; 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.

Welch and Johnson are accused of doling out $1 million in cash, gifts and favors to IOC delegates who decide where the Olympic Games will be held. The defense argues that the extravagant gifts to Olympic officials were merely business as usual.

The scandal was the worst in Olympic history, and it resulted in the expulsion or resignation of 10 IOC members.

Welch and Johnson have maintained their innocence, and insist Utah's political and business elite knew what they were doing.

"It was open and notorious that people in the IOC were treated like royalty," Max Wheeler, Johnson's lawyer, said in an early hearing.

The defendants twice rejected the government's offer of a plea deal on a single count of tax fraud.

"I'm not looking for a deal and I don't expect one. Nor do I want one," said Welch, a business consultant.

Welch and Johnson could face up to 75 years in prison if convicted of all charges, though any actual sentence would likely be far shorter.

In 2001, Sam threw out the case, sparing Salt Lake City the embarrassment of a courtroom spectacle leading up to 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, 44, 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.

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

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