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Former Olympic officials indicted in bribery scandal
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000
SALT LAKE CITY -- Two former Utah Olympic officials were indicted Thursday on charges they paid $1-million in cash and gifts to help bring the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City.
Tom Welch, 55, former president of the Salt Lake City Olympic bid committee, and Dave Johnson, 41, the ex-vice president, became the highest-ranking officials charged in the biggest scandal in Olympic history.
The U.S. Justice Department accused them of making the illicit payments to influence the votes of more than a dozen members of the International Olympic Committee, which selects the host cities for the Olympic Games.
In addition to cash, Welch and Johnson gave IOC members first-class air fare; medical care, including plastic surgery at Utah hospitals; rifles, pistols and shotguns; and U.S. college tuition for children of six IOC members, according to an internal investigation by Salt Lake Olympic officials.
Prosecutors also said Welch and Johnson diverted $130,000 for their own use.
Both men have portrayed themselves as scapegoats for the bribery scandal, which has been under Justice Department investigation for more than a year. Welch resigned from the bid committee in 1997, Johnson in 1999.
"The idea that we defrauded the bid committee or anybody else is preposterous. So is the charge that we bribed anybody," Welch said in a statement.
Johnson's attorney, Max Wheeler, said: "What the government is doing, from a moral standpoint, is far worse than what Johnson and Welch ever did. It will cause irreparable harm to other people in this community and the effort to put on successful games."
A Salt Lake businessman and a former U.S. Olympic official have already pleaded guilty in connection with the scandal, and a grand jury indicted the son of a South Korean IOC member, who was given a job by the Salt Lake committee, on immigration-fraud charges.
Welch and Johnson were considered the investigation's chief targets. Their indictment followed the collapse of plea bargain negotiations with them. On Monday, they rejected a deal to plead guilty to tax obstruction.
Welch and Johnson were charged with one count of conspiracy, five counts of mail fraud, five counts of wire fraud and four counts of interstate travel in aid of racketeering. Each charge carries up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The charges are another blow to the scandal-scarred Olympics. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee has struggled to raise money and keep sponsors from bowing out since the scandal erupted in November 1998.
SLOC president Mitt Romney, who was hired to clean up after the scandal, still has $80-million to raise for the $1.32-billion games to break even. He said he made a personal plea to Welch to settle the case for the good of Utah.
"These indictments come as no surprise," Romney said. "I do not believe this will have significant financial consequences for the games."
Wheeler said he expects the case to take at least a year to play out, meaning a trial could drag into the February 2002 games.
"I would hate to have NBC cut into their coverage of the giant slalom in order to report on a trial. Such a trial will only rehash everything that has already been said about the bid committee's actions," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said this week.
In a report issued in 1999, a Salt Lake ethics panel found that the bid committee lavished more than $1.2-million in cash, gifts, travel, scholarships and other inducements on members of the IOC and their relatives. The panel largely blamed Welch and Johnson.
In the wake of the scandal, 10 IOC members resigned or were removed from the 105-year-old organization, and the Salt Lake organizing committee's upper management was replaced.
The U.S. Olympic Committee released a statement from its Colorado Springs, Colo., headquarters Thursday, saying that with the indictments completed, "We look forward to attention once again being focused on the athletes of the world."
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.