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A city's shame

By SHARON GINN and CARYN BAIRD

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2001


In November 1998, a Salt Lake City television station was the first to report that the Salt Lake Organizing Committee had paid for a scholarship for the daughter of late International Olympic Committee member Rene Essomba of Cameroon. In the months that followed, allegations of bribery and fraud piled up in what ranks as the biggest scandal in Olympic history.

THE ALLEGATIONS: Salt Lake committee officials are accused of winning the 2002 Games by bribing IOC members. They are accused of providing cash payments (in one instance, more than $50,000), medical care and expensive gifts to IOC members and their families. Also, committee president Frank Joklik acknowledged that 13 people, including six relatives of IOC members, had received nearly $400,000 in scholarships or financial aid from the committee. The U.S. Justice Department, the IOC and the U.S. Olympic Committee have investigated. The Associated Press reported that the Justice Department spent more than $1-million on the case.

THE GIFTS: A separate report by a specially appointed Salt Lake committee ethics panel determined the committee gave more than $1.2-million in cash, gifts, scholarships, and travel and other inducements to IOC members and their families. The report said three IOC members received more than $100,000 in benefits: The family of Jean-Claude Ganga (Congo), more than $250,000; Essomba, $174,000, including more than $100,000 in financial aid and living expenses for his son; and the son of David Sibandze (Swaziland), $111,389 in scholarship assistance.

THE FALLOUT: Ten IOC members either resigned or were removed from their positions.

THE CHARGES: Tom Welch, who led the bid that won the Games in 1995, and former Salt Lake committee senior vice president David Johnson were indicted by a grand jury in July for conspiring to violate Utah's commercial bribery statute and breaking federal fraud and racketeering statutes. Prosecutors also have said the two diverted $130,000 in funds for their use. Attorneys for Welch and Johnson have said prosecutors will be hard-pressed to prove conspiracy; instead, they argue, the bid committee members simply did what is expected of a bid city. Two others have pleaded guilty -- one to tax fraud, the other to filing false tax returns -- in connection with the scandal.

WHAT'S NEXT: The trial for Welch and Johnson is scheduled to begin June 1.

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