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Dave Johnson’s story

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At this very moment, men with great power and resources in the federal government are working with inordinate enthusiasm to put Dave Johnson in jail, but Johnson is telling you that he loves his life.

"Remember that scene from 'City of Angels' when he wants to taste a pear but can't?" he asks. "Well, I taste life. I appreciate life."Kyra, 5, Josh, 8, Brynne, 9, and Brooke, 12, surround father Dave Johnson as he looks at photos on a digital camera at Snowbird.Ravell Call, Deseret News

In this latest incarnation of Dave Johnson, the self-described former "Type AAAA," it is enough to have four healthy kids, a wife and a job. He has slowed down after a long 12-year sprint through the Olympic bid and host process. The threat of 15 federal indictments, jail and unemployment will do that to a man.

"There are good days and bad days," says Johnson, sitting in a booth at the back of a Salt Lake restaurant. "Shall I tell you about a good day? Tomorrow I am going skiing with my family, and then we're going to my son's basketball game. That's a good day."

After a thoughtful pause, he picks at his salad and begins again. "Shall I tell you about a bad day? Having Mitt (Romney) stand up in a press conference and criticize you for something he wasn't even involved in and doesn't know anything about. That's a bad day.

"Shall I tell you about a good day? Listening to someone on the radio say terrible things about you, but you've got your child sitting on your lap.

"Shall I tell you about a bad day? To be in line for a job and have someone from the organizing committee make sure you don't get it.

"Shall I tell you about a good day? Having someone call to tell you they have a job for you because they think you can make a positive contribution.

"Shall I tell you about a bad day? Learning that the driver of your school carpool asked your little girl, 'What's wrong?' one morning, and your little 10-year-old girl says, 'I want my dad to be happy again.' "

"Shall I tell you about a bad day? Having your wife lose her career (as a local TV anchorwoman) because of you.

"Shall I tell you about a good day?" he says, and then pauses as he chokes back tears. "Getting up in the morning and watching your wife on TV doing what she loves, and then walking into your kids' rooms and getting them dressed and making sure they're getting off to school, and they know you're happy."

And so it goes. Good days. Bad days.

For three years, Johnson, the 43-year-old former vice president of the Olympic bid committee and organizing committee, has been a hunted and haunted man.

Johnson and his Olympic bid partner, Tom Welch, have been offered up as the whipping boys for the infamous bid scandal that consisted of gifts and scholarships and money ? a k a "bribes" ? used to win Salt Lake's chance to host the Games.

As Salt Lake City's remarkably long and torturous road to the 2002 Olympic Games draws to a close next month, the scandal will drag on, thanks to the federal government's persistence in the case. Even after a federal judge tossed the case out of court two months ago, prosecutors announced last week that they are appealing the case. The ordeal for Johnson goes on.

'Look at what we did'

"Shall I tell you about a bad day?" Johnson begins again, wiping a single tear from his cheek. "A bad day is waking up one morning to find TV and newspaper cameras pressed to the back window of your house, watching your kids eat cereal at the breakfast table.Enmeshed in Olympic scandal, Dave Johnson appears at federal court in Salt Lake City in August 2000.Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

"A bad day is losing your job for reasons you can't even begin to comprehend because every day you tried to do the best job you could. And losing it not because you were incompetent, but for reasons that are beyond your control. That's a bad day.

"This is a bad summer: Getting ready to send the kids away because you don't want them here for a trial.

"This is a good day: Ten days before the trial, the judge throws out the case. That's a great day."

"Shall I tell you about a bad day? Having the governor go on national TV and say he despises being associated with you. That's a bad day."

"Shall I tell you about a good day?" he begins again after another lengthy silence. "Opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games, a blue sky, 50,000 people in the stands, getting ready to welcome the athletes."

The irony is that while Johnson, along with Welch, is arguably the man most responsible for bringing the Games to Utah, he has no official role at the Olympics, although he has been invited to a dress rehearsal. He got his Olympic tickets through the generosity of a friend.

(Johnson modestly tells you that others played equally large roles in bringing the Games to Utah ? "This was never a two-person endeavor," he says ? but if Johnson and Welch are going to take all the blame for the scandal, can't they take all the credit for winning the Games bid, too?)

"I am thrilled the Games are here," Johnson says. "I will enjoy every minute of it. I'm grateful to have been a part of it. Obviously, I would like to have seen this goal of mine all the way through. I don't know if you ever get over the disappointment. Yet it's still an accomplishment, to be involved in the Olympics and have them in my hometown. Look at what we did."

As a spectator, Johnson will see his hand in virtually every aspect of the Olympics. He will watch the downhill racers ski a course he stepped off personally seven years ago, hiking the mountain with former Olympic champion and course designer Bernhard Russi and tying ribbons on trees to mark the future course. During the opening ceremonies, he will sit in a stadium he helped ready for the event.

"I can tell you where the gas lines are in the stadium," he says. "I can tell you about the caldron and where the athletes will enter. We discussed all those things years ago, and now they're being implemented."

'Our family sacrificed'

In many ways Johnson, a Utah native, was the perfect man for helping lead the bid effort. He is a former car salesman who fell in love with the Winter Olympics at the age of 9 while living in Norway, where his father served as a mission president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He skied and bobsledded on facilities used for the 1952 Winter Games and was steeped in Olympic heroes and feats.Dave Johnson, left, hugs his wife, Kim, as fellow Utahns celebrate in Budapest after hearing the decision that Salt Lake City had won the bid to host the 2002 Winter Olympics.Tom Smart, Deseret News

From 1986 to 1999, he worked fanatically to bring the Olympics to Utah.

Like door-to-door salesmen, Johnson and Welch drove around Europe in a Volkswagen Passat one winter, knocking on doors to peddle Salt Lake's bid while also attending various sporting events to study the nuances of putting on such an event.

It was an all-consuming endeavor. Johnson, who married and had four children during the bid process, never took his family on vacation. His first date with his future wife, Kim ? who was introduced to him by Welch ? was an Olympic function, as all their dates would be after they married. If Kim wanted to see her husband, sometimes she had to board a plane. (Once she flew to Norway, spent one day with Dave, then returned home.)

"Our family sacrificed," he says.

It all unraveled in late 1998 when a letter Johnson wrote regarding Olympic scholarships turned up on a local TV station. Just as the controversy appeared to be waning, the International Olympic Committee's Marc Hodler threw gas on the fire by calling the IOC's bid process "bribery," and a scandal was born.

For Johnson, it became a game of How Low Can You Go?

He lost his dream job and became virtually unemployable, what with the threat of a federal investigation and the smell of scandal attached to him, not to mention the time the investigation required of him.

Days after the scandal broke, Kim lost her TV anchor position at KTVX Channel 4.

Reporters were climbing Johnson's fence and hanging out in his yard.

Old friends, co-workers and even some church leaders abandoned Johnson.

His close personal friendship with Welch had long since crumbled. (They now have a working relationship.) Meanwhile, the federal government indicted the duo on 15 felony counts, and SLOC wanted to set terms before agreeing to pay Welch and Johnson's legal bills "after we had cooperated with them fully in the investigation," says Johnson. "After they sucked everything out of us, and they were told they were not targets of the federal investigation, they got rid of us. They wouldn't support us."

There were nights when Johnson would stare at his children as they slept and wonder how he would feed them when his savings ran out. He wondered how he could possibly pay his legal bills. It wasn't just Johnson who was threatened; it was his entire family.

"I'd get up in the morning, and there I was on the front page of the newspaper," he says. "I'd take my kids to school and work in the classroom. That school made me feel welcome, but it was still hard. Tell me someone in Utah who has ever taken more abuse in the local newspaper."

To show his face in church was awkward, with vicious rumors flying. Even friends wondered if they should talk to Johnson for fear they would become part of the investigation. As it was, some of Johnson's acquaintances received unannounced Sunday visits from federal investigators.

'The hypocrisy of it all'

Johnson and Welch alone have been blamed for the massive, organized undertaking of gifts and scholarships and money.Dave Johnson helps his daughter Kyra as they take to the slopes at Snowbird Saturday. He relishes his life with his wife and children.Ravell Call, Deseret News

But if Johnson, who began working on the bid when he was in his early 30s, had the wherewithal to pull off the entire bid scandal operation with only the help of Welch, and could keep it secret from the best and brightest of the Salt Lake community, then this man should be heading the CIA.

"How does someone do all that without help?" he wonders. "My signature writing authority was $5,000. The hypocrisy of it all."

At the top of Johnson's list of hypocrites is Gov. Mike Leavitt, who he says showed up long after the bidding process was finished and decided what the rules for the bid should have been. But the guidelines and rules for the bidding process ? rules set long before Salt Lake City entered the Olympic bid game ? are not the prospective host's decision to make, Johnson notes. That power belongs solely to the IOC.

"The government still wants to put me in jail," says Johnson. "They're spending our tax dollars to do it. And for what? Give me a good reason they should pursue this case. Who got hurt? Didn't the organizing committee get what they wanted? The IOC got the Games organized for them in one of the greatest venues that has ever organized the Games.

"We will have more sports and more athletes than ever. We raised more money than ever before, with superior venues and more spectator capacity. It will have the largest television audience ever. Do you think this was bad for the U.S. government for the Olympics to be here? It will showcase everything that's good about America. Especially in light of what happened on Sept. 11."

'It was just our family'

With the Justice Department in pursuit, Johnson cannot discuss details of his case, although he is anxious to do so. His bitterness at being abandoned by those who worked on the bid with him and his anger over the way the scandal has played out is tempered by a discovery of self and family.Dave Johnson and Tom Welch leave Budapest Convention Center after rehearsing Salt Lake City's bid.Tom Smart, Deseret News

"I am fortunate to have such a good wife," says Johnson. "I learned the only thing that's important is our family. Because everything else could be taken away from you. Finances. Job. Friends. Health. I'm grateful to some of our friends and neighbors. There's seldom a day we don't receive a compassionate note of support from someone. We relish every one of them. These are people trying to understand what we're going through.

"Let me tell you, I understand now when someone needs help. I'm there. We are better people for this. We are more compassionate. We are more fun for our friends to be around. And I know we're better parents. I can't understand why I ever wanted to be out of town during one of our kids' events. There were some very special moments with our kids. It was just our family. There were times there was no one else. It was our fight. There wasn't anything anyone could do to take it away in a single moment."

Having lost a lucrative job and faced with the possibility of massive legal bills, Johnson lives a different lifestyle. "I don't need what I used to need. We prioritize. We live differently. The legal bills should be paid by insurance. That was what the (SLOC) by-laws always stated."

Looking back, Johnson expresses no regrets. "I feel good about myself," he says. "I feel good about the bid. I feel good about the Olympics. When the Games are finished, I hope people say, 'Wow, that was in Utah.'

"We've never lost a night of sleep. Even through the worst days. We've been comforted. We know this is going to work out. The truth is going to come out. We've never had anything to hide. We've had peace through this."

E-mail: drob@desnews.com