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Scandal book takes jabs at Utahns, IOC

SHARE Scandal book takes jabs at Utahns, IOC

It sounds like the cast of characters from the latest Tom Clancy novel. Russian mobsters. Corrupt officials. Even a former fascist foot soldier and a drug-battling military general.

"The Great Olympic Swindle," though, is no ordinary story of international political intrigue.

Figuring prominently in the plot are a pair of Utahns — "Tom 'n' Dave" — along with plenty of other names tied to the scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's tainted bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

There's really nothing new about the bribery allegations that led to last month's indictment of former bid leaders Tom Welch and Dave Johnson in the 320-page book by British journalist Andrew Jennings.

But Jennings, a longtime critic of the International Olympic Committee, doesn't offer readers a very flattering picture of the effort to court IOC votes with cash and gifts that's kept Utah in the news for the past 1 1/2 years.

Or of the two bid leaders.

Welch is described as "beefy, piggy-eyed and touchy-feely . . . a grocery-chain lawyer who dreamed of becoming something greater. A one-time Mormon bishop who sometimes came on a little strong (and) a family man with family troubles."

There's a reference to the 1997 incident between Welch and his former wife, Alma, that led to his resignation as the head of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and to his pleading no contest to a spouse-abuse charge.

His "old friend" Johnson doesn't fare much better. "A fellow churchgoer and former Saab dealer, dishy Dave was known for being persuasive. . . . Even in the early days, Dave could be too keen."

Jennings notes that Johnson was criticized by the Utah legislative auditor general for misusing public funds as the head of a private foundation created to bring major sporting events to the state.

Other Utahns receive similar treatment in the book, scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster here and abroad in September. Chapter 3 is titled, "There's Jim and Earl and Frank and Nick and Spence and Bob and all those fellows doing deals down in Salt Lake!"

Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and Earl Holding, the wealthy owner of the Little America Hotel and Snowbasin, are criticized for the controversial land exchange that's allowing Holding to expand the Ogden-area ski resort that will host Olympic downhill skiing.

Holding sat on the SLOC Board of Trustees until the conflict-of-interest rules were changed after the scandal broke in late 1998. He left then, along with Nick Badami, former owner of the Park City Mountain Resort, another Olympic venue, and others.

The business ties between Frank Joklik, Spence Eccles and Bob Garff are also mentioned. Joklik, who stepped down as head of SLOC early last year, and Eccles are both trustees. Garff is the chairman of the organizing committee board.

But Jennings is much nastier when it comes to the IOC and the assortment of shadowy figures surrounding the Swiss-based organization. There are many references to IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch's service in Spain's fascist regime, for example.

Russian mobsters and their ties to amateur boxing's fight fixers are there, too. Jennings does offer some praise, for Gen. Barry McCaffrey's battle as the U.S. drug czar against the use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes.

At least the Utahns connected to the bid aren't the only villains in Jennings' book. In fact, he suggested they may not be so bad after all, especially compared to some of his other targets.

"I'm not picking on the leaders of the Utah bid as being any more reprehensible than anybody else," Jennings said in a recent telephone interview from England. "They're not worse than anybody else who got drawn into this international conspiracy of sucking up."


E-MAIL: lisa@desnews.com