When the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City in June 1995, Utahns believed years of hard work and the state's investment in winter sports facilities had finally been recognized and rewarded.
After all, Utah had been after the Winter Games for decades, spending more than $14 million on bid efforts alone. Also, taxpayers had already agreed to spend almost $60 million to construct Olympic venues, most of which had already been built or were being built when the bid winner was announced.
Perhaps no other city in Olympic bid history, hoping to garner the Games, had done more pre-bid groundwork than Salt Lake City. Utahns were confident the Winter Games were coming to Salt Lake City in 2002 because of the quality of the state's winter sports facilities and because Utah has the "greatest snow on Earth."
However, Utahns, the world and the nation were shocked and disappointed when it was discovered more than three years after Utah was awarded the 2002 Winter Games that Salt Lake's bidders had spent nearly $1 million in gifts, scholarships, cash and gratuities for IOC members and their relatives.
Many felt these non-Olympic related expenditures amounted to no less than buying votes. Even a prominent IOC member called it bribery. As details of the secretive expenditures were uncovered, the controversy became known as the Salt Lake bribery scandal.
When the dust of the scandal settled, after the results were known of at least four separate investigations into the practices of the Salt Lake Bid Committee, the fallout was staggering.
Frank Joklik, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, and Dave Johnson, vice president, resigned under pressure in January 1999. Tom Welch, former SLOC president and the main man behind Salt Lake's bid efforts, had resigned before the scandal broke following accusations of spouse abuse.
Joklik was replaced by Boston-based venture capitalist Mitt Romney, who was chosen to rescue Salt Lake's tarnished image and restore confidence in Olympic sponsors that the 2002 Winter Games would be a success.
Welch and Johnson were indicted in July 2000 on 15 charges by a federal grand jury. A year later, however, U.S. District Judge David Sam tossed out some of the charges saying federal prosecutors couldn't use a Utah law to pursue a federal crime. On Nov. 15, 2001, Sam dismissed the remaining charges saying a grand jury wouldn't have indicted them had prosecutors not alleged bribery in all the counts.
Salt Lake businessman David Simmons, former U.S. Olympic Committee official Alfredo LaMont and Jung Hoon Kim, the son of an IOC member, were also charged with federal crimes relating to Salt Lake's bid efforts. Simmons and LaMont accepted plea bargains offered by federal prosecutors. Kim has not returned to the United States to face the charges against him.
Some losing cities for the 2002 and 2004 summer and winter Olympics demanded revotes. Reno-Tahoe bidders threatened to sue. Many competing cities and IOC critics called for the resignation of IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, saying he fostered the way IOC members did business. None of the demands were granted, but policies did change.
The IOC cleaned house by ousting, accepting resignations and reprimanding those members who solicited or received gifts from Salt Lake bidders. More than 10 IOC members were out. The IOC took further steps to reform by adopting a prohibition on visits by IOC members to bid cities. The IOC also adopted new guidelines to its ethics policy restricting members from accepting gifts, even though the IOC already had a policy banning gifts of more than $150.
The scandal was sparked in November of 1998 when a Salt Lake television station received an anonymous copy of a 1996 letter detailing a $10,000 tuition payment from SLOC to the daughter of a late IOC member. The letter and subsequent pressure from the media and public resulted in SLOC acknowledging the funding of a "National Olympic Committee Program" in which about $440,000 was paid to 13 people, eight relatives of IOC members, through a scholarship program.
Immediate investigations launched by the USOC, IOC, the U.S. Justice Department and SLOC's own ethics panel revealed that the amount of cash, travel, medical care and lavish gifts given to IOC members and their families exceeded $1 million.
The ethics panel report placed the blame mostly on Welch and Johnson, citing their control of the bid expenditures. The ethics panel said the bid committee's board of trustees was not aware of the payments to IOC members and their relatives.
Welch and Johnson denied wrongdoing and said they simply operated in a culture created by others. They also denied keeping things secret, saying other bid leaders knew of the expenditures and were aware of their actions.
Most believe the decision to take the unethical path came shortly after Salt Lake City lost the 1998 Winter Games to Nagano, Japan. Observers felt Utah's bid was far superior to the Japan bid. However, Nagano officials had spent millions courting and entertaining IOC members, even funding IOC's pet project of an Olympic museum in Switzerland to the tune of $25 million.
Shocked by losing to Nagano, some Utah bidders decided at that point it was time to play the same game.
Shortly after the scandal broke, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said the Olympic bribery behavior did not begin in Utah but that it would end in Utah. Revelations uncovered in the scandal and the fallout appear to make Leavitt's statements true.
According to a report issued by the USOC, Salt Lake City won the bid for the 2002 Winter Games based on technical merit. The Utah bid was far superior than any other bid, which made the excessive gift-giving unnecessary and tragic, the report said.
SLOC officials say the only way to prove this to the world, and to remove the tarnish of the bid scandal, is to stage the best Winter Games the world has ever seen.