Government to appeal dismissal of Olympic bribery case


Wednesday, January 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ The U.S. Justice Department planned to file an appeal Wednesday in the Olympic bribery case that was thrown out of Utah's federal court.

Federal prosecutors will ask the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to reinstate 15 felony charges of bribery racketeering, fraud and conspiracy against Salt Lake bid chief Tom Welch and deputy Dave Johnson, the men who landed the 2002 Winter Olympics for Salt Lake City.

The bid leaders were accused of plying IOC delegates and relatives with dlrs 1 million in cash, gifts, scholarships and other inducements to win votes for Salt Lake's Olympic candidacy.

The case was only two weeks away from trial last July when U.S. District Judge David Sam threw out the racketeering charges. Sam tossed the other fraud and conspiracy charges in November, saying they couldn't stand on their own.

Sam denounced the entire case as federal intrusion into state affairs because it was built on Utah's commercial bribery law. That law, he said, never was meant to cover Olympic bidding. He noted the Utah attorney general's office investigated but never brought state charges.

The federal government may argue it has an interest in fighting Olympic corruption. Justice Department officials have said they pursued the case to deter other U.S. cities from paying or having to pay bribes to win an Olympic bid.

A federal magistrate who first examined the case consistently upheld those theories, but Sam made his own determination. Now the appeals court will make its judgment, although that could take months.

The legal maneuvering guarantees that the cloud of the scandal will hang over the Feb. 8-24 games.

Sam ruled that Utah's rarely invoked commercial bribery law doesn't clearly apply to Olympic bidding. The state law prohibits classic business kickback schemes.

Prosecutors, however, can argue that anyone would know that paying dlrs 1 million in bribes is conduct likely to be judged illegal. Some of the money was wired directly to IOC members' bank accounts, according to the indictment.

The government also is expected to argue that a fraud case can stand on its own without racketeering charges. The fraud case accuses Welch and Johnson of hiding or disguising their IOC dealings from a board of trustees.

Defense lawyers consider the fraud charges the weakest part of the federal case and are eager to confront Utah's political and business leaders on the stand with evidence they say shows the trustees knew enough about Welch and Johnson's dealings.

Welch was president of the Salt Lake bid and organizing committees until 1997, when he was forced out amid charges of domestic violence. He continued to serve as a dlrs 10,000-a-month consultant until the Olympic scandal blossomed in January 1999, when Johnson was removed as vice president. Both men also lost post-games pensions.