Salt Lake City Olympic scandal leads to increased scrutiny and IOC reforms

Friday, November 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ The bribery scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Winter Games tarnished the Olympic movement and embarrassed Utah residents. Nonetheless, some claim the bad publicity had a positive effect by forcing ethical reforms.

Bid leaders Tom Welch and Dave Johnson had 10 fraud counts and a conspiracy charge thrown out Thursday by a judge who called the case defective. Welch and Johnson allegedly used $1 million in enticements to sway International Olympic Committee members to support their bid to have the games held in Salt Lake City.

The enticements were said to have included college scholarships for IOC members' relatives, guns, medical care, travel and other perks.

After the worst scandal in the modern Olympics broke last year, the IOC kicked out 10 unscrupulous members, established an ethics commission and a ban on visits by IOC members to Olympic bidding cities, among other reforms.

``It will never happen again,'' Salt Lake Organizing Committee president Mitt Romney said Thursday. ``The changes at the IOC will protect that organization from itself and from others. Even here in Salt Lake City, there will be a heightened sense of scrutiny for programs such as this.''

Romney took over with Welch and Johnson under investigation. He slowly lured sponsors back and tried to keep the focus on athletes and venues as he oversaw preparations for the $1.3 billion Salt Lake Olympics, scheduled for Feb. 8-24.

``There was unethical conduct which occurred in the bid process but apparently not illegal conduct,'' Romney said. ``I don't think this will have a significant effect on our games. The games have never been about men in suits.''

In July, U.S. District Judge David Sam threw out four bribery counts, but prosecutors elected to pursue the remaining charges against Welch and Johnson. Sam determined this week that without those charges, the rest of the case falls apart.

Prosecutors haven't indicated whether they plan to appeal.

Attorneys for Welch and Johnson said their clients felt vindicated after the judge decision, which essentially wiped out what remained of the federal case.

``It's good to have the federal court agree with us on the lack of criminality in his conduct,'' said Max Wheeler, who represents Johnson. ``We're confident we'll be able to uphold the court's order'' on appeal.

Cleaning up the residue, however, will take some time.

``It was an unfortunate situation because it took the focus off the athletes. They train their whole lifetime for one moment,'' said Nikki Stone, who won a gold medal in women's aerials at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Anita DeFrantz, an American IOC member, said it's time to stop talking about the scandal.

``On the games, there is no tarnish because the games are about the athletes,'' she said. ``Now we can focus on the athletes.''