Utah Dreading Olympic Bribery Trial

Utah Dreading Olympic Bribery Trial

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The 2002 Winter Games were always tainted by allegations of bribery, but the city seemed to overcome the negative image when it pulled off the games without a hitch, leaving a $100 million profit and the U.S. Olympic team with a record 34 medals.

Now those image gains are threatened by the prospect of a trial for the two Salt Lake bid executives accused of plying International Olympic Committee delegates and family members with $1 million in inducements ranging from shotguns to scholarships at U.S. schools.

The federal case against bid leader Tom Welch and deputy Dave Johnson was thrown out by a Utah judge, but an appeals court on Tuesday reinstated each of the 15 felony charges of conspiracy, bribery racketeering and fraud.

Instead of dreading a trial, Welch said it will give him a chance to tell his story: that lavishing gifts on IOC members was the way the game was played by other bid cities and that Utah's political and business elite knew what he was doing.

"We never did anything that was wrong," Welch insisted Wednesday, saying he hopes to convince a Utah jury of that.

Fraser Bullock, brought in to help clean up the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, said Utah overcame its tarnished image with successful games and friendly volunteers in the aftermath of the terror attacks.

"But it could be a little tarnished by the resurfacing of the case. I personally feel it's unfortunate that we have to go back to the past, after having firmly established such a wonderful brand in the eyes of the world," said Bullock, now president and chief executive of the organizing committee, which plans to go out of business this summer. "But I recognize we're all governed by laws and have to respect the legal system."

Federal prosecutors will ask the same judge who threw out the charges, U.S. District Court Judge David Sam, to schedule a trial now that he's been overturned by the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Sam, a semiretired judge who still takes some cases, could try the Olympic case or turn it over to another judge.

"We do have every intention of moving forward," Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said Wednesday.

Welch and Johnson are ruling out taking a plea bargain that government prosecutors say they won't offer anyway, all but assuring the case will reach trial. The defendants twice before spurned government offers, insisting they did nothing criminal.

Then, as now, the defense strategy will rely on confronting politicians and civic leaders -- including Gov. Mike Leavitt -- over what they knew about the alleged bribery scheme, and when they knew it.

Leavitt wasn't happy with the prospect of a trial, issuing a statement saying it was "unfortunate that federal prosecutors have continued to press this case."

Welch's lawyer Max Wheeler never made his strategy of confronting Utah's elite a secret, and Welch said it remains in place. Wheeler didn't return phone messages left Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Wheeler could ask the full 10th Circuit Court for a rehearing, but the request isn't likely to be accepted. A three-judge panel of the court issued a unanimous 56-page decision eviscerating every one of Sam and defense lawyers' legal arguments against federal intervention in the Utah scandal.

Prosecutors will argue that Welch and Johnson knew they were breaking the law by cooking the organizing committee's books and creating phony contracts and invoices to funnel money to IOC delegates and secret lobbyists.

The February 2002 games were widely hailed as the best organized Winter Olympics ever. Even the tight security after the terror attacks didn't dampen enthusiasm. Only Welch and Johnson's efforts in landing the games were overlooked, their names missing from an Olympic Wall of Honor.

Mayor Rocky Anderson, elected after the scandal tarnished his predecessor, Deedee Corradini, feels "justice needs to be done," said Josh Ewing, the mayor's spokesman.

A trial could inflame IOC resentment over the scandal, hurting New York City's chances when the organization in 2005 picks a host city for the 2012 Summer Games.

IOC director general Francois Carrard said Wednesday the IOC long ago responded to the Salt Lake scandal by expelling members and enacting reforms.

"We have quickly drawn the lesson from the Salt Lake City facts and we have taken the proper action," Carrard said. "It's a matter for U.S. justice now to decide."

Asked whether IOC members or officials are willing to appear as witnesses in a trial, Carrard said: "We have always said very clearly from day one that we were cooperating with U.S. justice authorities. I wouldn't see any reason for that to change."

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

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