Boise Mayor Resigns Under Fire for Accepting a Trip to the Olympics

Boise Mayor Resigns Under Fire for Accepting a Trip to the Olympics

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Besieged Mayor Brent Coles abruptly resigned on Friday after the state attorney general's office filed a criminal complaint against him claiming he illegally accepted a trip to the 2002 Olympics from Blue Cross of Idaho.

Coles said he was stepping down, after nearly 12 years, so the allegations do not jeopardize city operations.

He declined to comment on the charges.

"I'm resigning today not because I believe I'm guilty of any criminal wrongdoing, but because I do not want these charges to impair the conduct of the city's important business," Coles said.

His attorney, Mark Manweiler, said the former mayor will plead innocent to the charges and he predicted Coles would be exonerated.

The attorney general based his charges on a state law that prohibits any public official from accepting any financial benefit from a person or organization that does business with the government he represents.

Coles, who had gained some national recognition when he was president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors two years ago, and his wife received air travel, hotel accommodations and event admissions from Blue Cross between Feb. 14 and Feb. 18 for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said the charges were filed on Friday because the one-year statute of limitations was about to expire. The maximum penalty is a year in jail and $1,000 fine.

Wasden also said his office was continuing to investigate.

Coles has been under investigation for more than a month following mounting criticism of City Hall travel and spending by himself and aides.

Coles came under criticism following a highly publicized trip he and former chief of staff Gary Lyman took to New York City in November during a conference they were attending in Rochester, N.Y. On the side trip, the two men, city attorney Susan Mimura and her assistant went to dinner and a Broadway show, in what Coles called a creative annual bonus for Mimura.

Coles later repaid the cost of the New York City trip. On Dec. 17, he announced he had asked for and received Lyman's resignation.

The side trip prompted the City Council to order an audit of Coles' expenses over the past four years and a review of the city's employee bonus policy.

"This has damaged us individually and collectively," Coles said. "It is my sincere hope that my resignation will put this to rest and will allow all of us an opportunity to begin to heal. A spirit of anger and meanness has permeated this community for the past three months."

Blue Cross said the National BlueCross BlueShield Association is a longtime sponsor of the Olympic Games. Idaho's Olympic Committee had scheduled Feb. 16, 2002, as Idaho Day in Salt Lake City and Coles had been asked to deliver a speech there, the company said.

Coles' critics mounted a recall campaign and this week handed in 26,000 signatures. They needed 18,693 registered voters to force a recall election, although city staff had not announced by Friday if they reached that mark.

"Absolutely, the writing was on the wall for the mayor," said attorney Joe Filicetti, an organizer of the Committee to Recall Mayor Coles. "When he talks about anger and people being upset because of me, that's garbage. This isn't a sad day for the community."

Filicetti said the city's problems are not merely because of Coles and called for an "old-fashioned house-clearing of City Hall."

City Council President Jerome Mapp said he is acting mayor until Tuesday, when the council will decide whether he should continue in the job until the next election.

"If I'm given that duty, I will run for re-election," he said.

"Serving as mayor of this city was my childhood dream," Coles said. "I believe in Boise. I love Boise."

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

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