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Defense poring over papers

Probe generates hundreds of boxes to peruse

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Even in a case as complex as the one surrounding former Salt Lake Olympic bid president Tom Welch and vice president Dave Johnson, there is no given formula as to where defense attorneys begin their work.

"You start with the first box," said Welch's lead attorney, William Taylor. "There is no magic to this. You've just got to look at every piece of paper."

Johnson's attorney, Max Wheeler, was no more specific as to his strategy.

"This is an overwhelming task," he said. "There are hundreds and hundreds of documents. It's going to take a long time to go through those. I think a year is conservative."

A week after Welch and Johnson pleaded not guilty to charges related to their efforts to bring the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City, their attorneys say they are in the beginning stages of going through more than 400 boxes of documents gathered during an 18-month investigation. The boxes, which Wheeler said total between 600 and 700, are being kept at the Salt Lake FBI offices.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Samuel Alba ordered prosecutors during Welch and Johnson's first court appearance last week to make the documents available to defense attorneys within a week. But whether any documents will be withheld from defense attorneys, an issue that was raised at the hearing, still remains to be seen.

"(Prosecutors) indicated to the court that there are a few that they don't think are relevant, but we have not dealt with that issue yet," Wheeler said. "We have gone over already and taken a look at documents, but there are still issues remaining as to how we're going to have access to those and under what conditions."

Taylor, who was back in Washington, D.C., Monday, declined to comment on whether any documents are still being withheld by prosecutors. But Wheeler said there will likely be no difference between the kinds of documents that will be used to defend both Johnson and Welch.

University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell, a former U.S. attorney, said the kinds of documents that are normally withheld in federal prosecutions are those that deal with confidential informants.

"This case has so many international wrinkles to it that it could be that somebody who cooperated with the government in this case is cooperating on other issues that the government isn't comfortable disclosing," Cassell said. "That is the kind of thing that would go to the judge behind closed doors to allow the judge to work it out. My guess is that it's going to be a tiny percentage of the material involved."

It is more likely that attorneys on both sides will try to work most disputes on their own outside of the judge's chambers, Cassell said. However, "there will probably be a few that will go to the judge just so both sides can see which way the judge is leaning."

How soon the material is reviewed depends on how large of a staff works on the case, Cassell added.

Saying he needs to "maintain a certain level of privacy and confidentiality over our strategy," Taylor declined to say exactly how many attorneys and paralegals he has working on the case.

"We have some but probably not enough," Taylor said. "We're doing what we can do and we're going to be hard pressed to get through all the documents. But we're going to do it as fast as you can, and you always need more people."

Taylor would not comment on how long the process may take or how soon he and Welch may begin to travel outside of the country to interview potential witnesses, many of whom are expected to be International Olympic Committee members.

Cassell says it would be in the defense's best interest to review all the documents before meeting with witnesses, but attorneys "may have to start moving more quickly" in this case.

Another issue that both Taylor and Wheeler say is still to be decided is who will pay for all the copying of documents.

"Copying 600 or 700 boxes of documents is an expensive proposition," Wheeler said. "Ask the government to pay for it? . . . I think it would be reasonable. Whether they do it or not is another question."

A federal grand jury handed up an indictment last month charging Welch and Johnson with 15 felony counts of fraud, conspiracy and racketeering in connection with about $1 million in cash, gifts and scholarships given to IOC members to obtain their support for Salt Lake City's bid to host the 2002 Winter Games.

Alba scheduled a trial for Oct. 16, but attorneys on both sides say it may be a year before the case goes to trial.

E-MAIL: hans@desnews.com