Federal agents typically investigate allegations of bribery, tax fraud and other serious financial crimes with as much secrecy as possible -- no outside help, hostile witnesses, little evidence and the usual suspects.

But the U.S. Justice Department team assigned to the Salt Lake Olympic scandal in Salt Lake City has found itself working anything but a typical investigation.For example, when agents last week began secretly gathering secretly subpoenaed documents from colleges and hospitals that might have been Olympics gift- giving venues, it made headlines.

And secretly subpoenaed witnesses have been routinely identified by the press and even filmed for worldwide TV audiences as they arrive at the Justice Department's makeshift headquarters in an office building shared without irony by the FBI and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.

The person believed to be the very first witness called under a secret grand jury subpoena became the very first casualty of the secrecy breach. Stephanie Pate, who served as secretary for former SLOC president Tom Welch, was mobbed by the media as she arrived for her interview with investigators two weeks ago.

Never mind that she was a "very minor" witness with no knowledge of any wrongdoing, said her attorney, David K. Watkiss.

"It wasn't easy for her," he said. "She is a 35-year-old woman with four children who suddenly found herself in front of dozens of microphones and cameras."

That may have been the most difficult part of her visit to the Justice Department office because once inside, she had no problem answering the questions, according to Watkiss.

"I can't comment on the substance of what was asked," he said. "I can tell you that Ms. Pate engaged in no unlawful conduct and knows of no facts of anyone engaging in unlawful conduct."

Craig Peterson, the former vice president of administration for the Olympic bid committee, was another secretly subpoenaed witness who paid a widely publicized visit to the investigative team's office. His attorney, Jay Bullock, will confirm as much but nothing more.

Bullock declined to comment on reports that Peterson had been negotiating with investigators and would shed significant light on many of the allegations.

Welch, who resigned as SLOC president following a domestic abuse scandal in 1997, had not been subpoenaed nor even contacted by investigators as of late last week, but he has strongly denied all accusations of wrongdoing in interviews with news reporters, the court of public opinion.

His lawyer, Thomas Schaffer, is worried that too many accusations with too little substance are finding their way into news reports and, from there, into the investigators' list of leads.

"As with any case, I don't want to see it tried in the press," Schaffer said. "By making unfounded allegations, the news media is getting (the Department of) Justice's interest."

While the federal agents are "top-notch" professionals and are not likely to bring charges against anyone without a basis in fact, "this continual flurry of accusations" is wasting their time and hurting innocent people, Schaffer said.

An international cadre of media sleuths has, in fact, been doing much of the investigative trail-blazing for the Department of Justice. The investigation itself was triggered late last year by a KTVX news report that exposed a SLOC scholarship for the relative of an International Olympic Committee member.

Since then, news reporters have led investigators to: the manufacturer of firearms that were given as gifts to IOC members; a hospital that provided free medical services to an IOC member; a lucrative Utah real estate deal that garnered an IOC member a quick $60,000 profit; a female escort who reportedly entertained an IOC member; and a host of other promising leads.

For example, federal agents came knocking at Tom Godfrey's door the day after he was quoted in USA Today about questionable activities that came to his attention while representing the Salt Lake City Council at the pivotal IOC meeting in Budapest in 1995.

Godfrey said he promised the federal agents he would not reveal his discussion with them, "but it's fair to say they wouldn't have been there if not for the USA Today article."

Godfrey had at least two new pieces of information to offer reporters and investigators. The first involved a conversation he says he had with Kim Johnson, the wife of former SLOC vice president Dave Johnson, while they were waiting for others in their party to arrive at a banquet table in Budapest.

According to Godfrey, Kim Johnson, a KTVX news reporter, remarked that her husband had put a lot of work into Salt Lake's bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics, including identifying all the likes and dislikes of IOC members, down to their sexual preferences.

"I remember it was before dinner; that's when she threw it out," Godfrey recalled. "That one about the sexual preferences bothered me. I began to wonder why it was important. It stuck in my mind."

The second bit of information involves a discussion Godfrey had with a SLOC staff member about a year after the Budapest trip.

"We were reminiscing about Budapest and what we were doing a year ago and it came out that this person was very nervous in the flight over because he was carrying a briefcase full of cash," Godfrey said.

The staff member, whom Godfrey would not identify, claimed he had $50,000 in cash in the briefcase for unspecified expenses related to bid activities. The Deseret News reported last month that U.S. Customs agents were investigating reports that bid committee members carried large amounts of cash to Budapest.

Godfrey said the staff member with the briefcase was aware of regulations requiring large amounts of cash to be declared at customs but "this person basically assumed his bosses had obtained clearance for it."

Like Godfrey, most of the identified witnesses are, by their own account or according to their lawyers, not at all hostile, but rather enthusiastically cooperative.

That's because there's nothing to hide, according to Welch's lawyer, Schaffer.

"From what I've seen thus far, nothing I've seen rises to the level of criminal activity," Schaffer said. "There has to be criminal intent, and to even imagine there was such intent in any of this is ludicrous."

There was no quid pro quo, no gifts or cash were offered in exchange for the votes of IOC members, Schaffer said. Salt Lake bid officials were simply playing by IOC rules, which required that IOC members be "treated like royalty."

"How could Justice (Department) or any other criminal investigators conclude that a vote was given in exchange for a gratuity?" Schaffer asked.

Besides the cooperation of witnesses, investigators are also enjoying -- or suffering -- an extraordinary amount of evidence, including a paper trail that's as obvious as the yellow-brick road. Besides a room full of SLOC financial and policy records, federal agents have gained access to thousands of state and local investigative and bureaucratic documents.

But they may never gain access to some of the most vital sources of information: the foreign IOC members who are suspected of soliciting or receiving the alleged bribes. Attorneys familiar with international law say it would be almost impossible to compel foreign IOC members to respond to questions in a U.S. criminal investigation.

And without their testimony, it may be almost impossible to establish the quid pro quo element necessary for a bribery conviction.

"It would be very difficult unless some IOC member comes forward and says, 'Look, I took money for my vote.' " Schaffer said. That won't happen, he added, because it didn't happen.

"Let's start talking about how we got the Games. Salt Lake didn't win by a couple of votes but by a substantial margin. Those people (suspected of taking gifts) didn't get us the Games," Schaffer said. "We won fair and square."