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U.S. appeals dismissal of charges in Oly scandal

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The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday appealed a Utah judge's dismissal of charges in the Olympic bribery scandal, ensuring the case will be around well beyond the 2002 Winter Games.

The 57-page brief was mailed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, meaning it probably will not be filed with the court until Thursday.

The appeal challenges U.S. District Judge David Sam's dismissal of 15 criminal charges against Tom Welch and Dave Johnson, saying the country's "prestige" was tarnished by the men's behavior in bringing the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City.

The former president and vice president of the Salt Lake Bid Committee are accused of using more than $1 million in cash, scholarships and gifts to persuade International Olympic Committee members to award Utah the Games.

"The United States has an interest in demonstrating that it will not tolerate corruption in the competition for the selection of host cities for the Olympic Games," the brief states.

Justice Department officials have said they pursued the case to deter other U.S. cities from paying or having to pay bribes to win an Olympic bid.

In July, just two weeks from trial, Sam tossed out four racketeering charges against the two men. A November ruling dismissed the remaining fraud and conspiracy charges, which Sam determined could not stand on their own.

Sam called the case an "uninvited federal intrusion into state criminal prosecutions." The Department of Justice inappropriately relied on a rarely used Utah bribery statute to charge Welch and Johnson, he said. The judge also found it noteworthy that the Utah attorney general's office investigated but never brought state charges.

U.S. Magistrate Ronald Boyce had previously upheld the charges in their entirety.

A three-judge panel will now have to decide on the case, which defense attorneys estimate will take 12 to 18 months. If Welch and Johnson lose the appeal, the case will return to Utah's federal court for a trial on all or some of the 15 charges.

Defense attorneys have argued the racketeering charges are pivotal to the case, while prosecutors believe fraud charges accusing Welch and Johnson of hiding their IOC dealings from a board of trustees can stand on their own.

The men contend all of their work was conducted with the full knowledge of many high-profile political, business and Olympic leaders, many of whom are expected to testify if the case makes it to trial.

Johnson has accused Gov. Mike Leavitt of conspiring with top Salt Lake Olympic officials and using him and Welch as scapegoats in the scandal.

Leavitt spokeswoman Natalie Gochnour said Wednesday the governor is not involved in the Justice Department's case. He is focused on the upcoming Olympics, not the ongoing scandal, she said.

"We think basically it's important for the community to move forward. The Games are here, and it's in everybody's interest to make these Games as memorable and as enduring as possible," Gochnour said. "It's just not something that the state is part of, we don't control it and we're basically an audience to it like everybody else."

Ten International Olympic Committee members either resigned or were expelled in the wake of the bribery scandal, and another 10 were reprimanded for their role in the situation. The IOC also enacted sweeping reforms to prevent members from again being able to accept favors and money from bid cities.

Contributing: Associated Press.

E-MAIL: awelling@desnews.com