'Nobody's stopping us'
Justice Department to salvage Olympic prosecution
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Solicitor General Theodore Olson has given his approval for federal prosecutors to appeal the dismissal of racketeering charges against Salt Lake City's Olympic bid leaders.
It's a sign of renewed vigor for a bribery case many thought might wither away, and an indication that the Justice Department might not let Utah avoid the embarrassment of a trial as it prepares to showcase the Winter Olympics.
"Nobody's stopping us," John Scott, a Justice Department trial attorney, said Friday. "The department is fully prepared to move forward in the prosecution of this matter."
Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden said Friday she would neither confirm nor deny that Olson gave the go-ahead for an appeal. But the case's prosecutors said they received Olson's permission.
Olson, the lawyer who represents the Bush administration before the U.S. Supreme Court, didn't return two days of calls from The Associated Press.
Olson's decision doesn't make a trial inevitable. U.S. District Judge David Sam still could derail the prosecution by tossing out all the charges against Tom Welch and David Johnson, Salt Lake City's top Olympic bid leaders. He already has dismissed some charges.
"There are some people who would like this to go away," said Gordon Hall, the former Utah chief justice who headed an ethics investigation for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.
Former Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson says it's not surprising that Utah political and business leaders, including Gov. Mike Leavitt and Sen. Orrin Hatch, dread the prospect of having to testify about their involvement in the tainted Olympic bid.
"It's a crowning moment of great glory when you put on the Games. The shadow continually cast on that is just unsettling, even if you're not a public official who has something to hide," said Wilson, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.
Wilson said Leavitt and Hatch have political reasons for wanting to abort a trial "even if they didn't do anything wrong."
Welch, 55, who was president of the Salt Lake bid and organizing committees, and Johnson, 41, who was vice president, have steadfastly rejected plea bargains and maintained they did nothing criminally wrong or unusual for a bid city.
Welch and Johnson are accused of lavishing IOC members with cash and gifts, their children with scholarships and their families with travel, vacations and medical care.
All told, they spent $1 million wooing IOC delegates who voted in 1995 to award Salt Lake next February's games. The scandal forced the resignation or expulsion of 10 International Olympic Committee members, reprimands for others and a series of bid and organizational reforms.
In July, Sam ruled Olympic lobbying wasn't organized crime and that federal prosecutors improperly used Utah's commercial bribery law to levy federal racketeering charges.
"Racketeering has curb appeal but can get stretched all kinds of ways," says Lee Forman, a Denver lawyer who represents former USOC official Alfredo La Mont, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion for his role in the scandal. La Mont, a secretly paid consultant for the Salt Lake bid, is waiting to testify at Welch and Johnson's trial before receiving his sentence.
Prosecutors also got a tax plea and cooperation agreement from Salt Lake businessman David Simmons, who admitted creating a no-show job for an IOC member's son who was indicted for immigration fraud.
Welch and Johnson have even less incentive to cut a trial short with a plea bargain.
Sam has invited their defense lawyers to submit by next Friday a brief attacking the rest of the government's case, fraud and conspiracy charges that allege Welch and Johnson hid or disguised their dealings with IOC members from trustees who raised Salt Lake's bid money.