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Will appeal harm Games?

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While defense attorneys believe the federal appeal filed Wednesday contains no damaging information against Tom Welch and Dave Johnson, some say its mere existence is harmful to the success of future Olympic Games.

William Taylor, Welch's Washington, D.C., attorney, sees nothing in the 57-page brief that could harm his client's defense.

"It's nothing we haven't heard before," Taylor said. "It's a valiant try, but Judge Sam was right, and we expect that in due course the Court of Appeals is going to agree."

However, he said, the timing of the filing is regrettable.

"I think that what Tom and Dave are most saddened by is that this occurs on the eve of the Games," he said. "The reality is, as everybody knows, that the Games are in Salt Lake City because of their efforts. And for there to be this event that clouds the joy that everybody feels about it is very unfortunate."

Just as Welch and Johnson hoped the case would not resurface after U.S. District Judge David Sam last year dismissed the 15 criminal counts against the former Olympic bid leaders, so did the U.S. Olympic Committee.

A USOC spokesman Wednesday suggested the Colorado Springs-based organization could suffer financially by the Justice Department's decision to continue the case.

"Any doubt that lingers on the scandal or the issues related to it is not good news for the USOC or for America's athletes," said Mike Moran, USOC managing director of media relations. "We will soon enter a critical period where we must renew all of our sponsorships."

Most of the sponsorship deals for the U.S. Olympic team expire after the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece. Those deals included marketing rights to the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

The soonest an American city could host the Olympics again is 2012.

"An issue like this could cause us some headaches as we attempt to generate the revenue required to fund our mission," Moran said.

The appeal is likely not being welcomed by Utahns either.

According to a November 2001 KSL/Deseret News poll, an overwhelming 61 percent said the Justice Department definitely should not appeal Sam's decision, and another 21 percent said the case probably should be dropped.

In the same Dan Jones and Associates survey, only 33 percent believed prosecuting Welch and Johnson is in the public interest.

Regardless, Salt Lake Olympic planners say the continued prosecution will have no effect on the success of Utah's Games.

"This decision has no impact on the Games, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee or the athletes," SLOC spokeswoman Caroline Shaw said. "The 2002 Winter Olympic Games are about Olympians, not managers."

Since the scandal surfaced in late 1998, the USOC has revamped its bid process for cities vying to become the American candidate to host Games. "The lessons learned have served us well," Moran said.

That should please Justice Department officials, who declared in Wednesday's filing their intent to safeguard the country from future scandals.

The 57-page brief challenges the legal reasoning on which Sam based his July and November decisions, which first dismissed four racketeering charges and later tossed out 11 fraud and conspiracy counts against the two men accused of using $1 million in cash, scholarships and gifts to influence International Olympic Committee during the bid process. The dealings were "classic bribes" that are clearly illegal under Utah's commercial bribery statute, prosecutors said.

In part, Sam dismissed the racketeering charges, brought under the federal Travel Act, because the men's conduct did not involve organized crime. While one of the driving forces behind the Travel Act was to combat organized crime, the brief states, it is not a necessary element for prosecution.

Sam noted that the state chose not to prosecute Welch and Johnson under its own commercial bribery statute, the basis for the federal charges.

But that shouldn't matter, the government said. "The decisions of Utah prosecutors are not relevant in any of these respects to the question whether this Travel Act prosecution may proceed."

And although the Utah Attorney General's Office declined to file state charges against the men, government attorneys argue the Utah Supreme Court would rule that the commercial bribery statute clearly applies to their conduct.

"It is plain that the statute covers the substantial cash payoffs allegedly made by defendants as bribes or attempted bribes to IOC members," the brief states.

The brief also addresses defense attorneys' claims that the fraud and conspiracy charges cannot stand without the key racketeering charges. The 10th Circuit can choose to reinstate all, or only some, of the original charges.

Prosecutors believe ample evidence exists to prove Welch and Johnson participated in a scheme to deprive the Salt Lake Bid Committee, even without the bribery allegations.

The fraud charges accuse Welch and Johnson of hiding their conduct from the Salt Lake Bid Committee's board of trustees. For example, prosecutors say the men claimed to set up a program to purchase sports equipment for underprivileged athletes in Africa. However, the program was actually used "as an accounting ruse to hide their bribery payments."

Welch and Johnson also allegedly "solicited a large donation from an Olympic sponsor, insisted that it be in cash, and then, in airports and hotels, collected envelopes thick with currency, totaling $131,000, which was never recorded" in the bid committee's financial records, the brief states.

The men maintain their dealings were done with the full knowledge of top Salt Lake Olympic, political and business leaders.

Defense attorneys have 30 days to respond the to the filing, and Justice Department attorneys will have an opportunity to respond after that. The case will then be scheduled for oral argument before a three-judge panel later this year.

Contributing: Brady Snyder and Lisa Riley Roche

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com