Gifts Or Bribes: Only Trial Will Tell In Salt Lake City

Posted: August 08, 2000

After pleading innocent yesterday in Salt Lake City to charges he used cash to land the 2002 Winter Games, Dave Johnson said there was nothing wrong with using money to influence members of the International Olympic Committee.

His fellow defendant, Tom Welch, was more circumspect, saying he did nothing wrong.

But lawyers for both of Salt Lake's indicted Olympic bid leaders expect to call IOC members to the stand to explain how cash and gifts aren't the same thing as bribery.

"You have to understand the context," Johnson said before both men were arraigned on charges they paid $1 million in cash, travel and extravagant gifts to IOC delegates who awarded Salt Lake the 2002 Winter Games.

Welch and Johnson said they mimicked the practice of other Olympic bid cities and had to serve a culture of entitlement inside the IOC.

Welch, 55, who was president of Salt Lake's bid committee, and Johnson, 41, his vice president, pleaded innocent to 15 felony conspiracy and fraud charges.

Johnson offered a series of cryptic remarks about how a trial could make hundreds of Olympic officials and Utah political and business figures squirm.

"There are a lot of politicians involved," Johnson said. He did emphasize that "not one member of our board" was uninformed of the bid leaders' tactics. The board included Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and former Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini, who have said they knew nothing of illicit payments.

Welch and Johnson were booked by U.S. marshals, briefed by probation officers on terms of their release and let go without having to post bail.

Magistrate Samuel Alba set an Oct. 16 trial date, but defense attorneys predicted it would take a year of collecting evidence and interviewing Olympic and Utah officials before the trial could start.

Welch and Johnson face a count of conspiracy, five counts of mail fraud, five counts of wire fraud and four counts of interstate travel in aid of racketeering.

In other news:

TORCH: Stolen along route

A man snatched the Olympic flame from a torchbearer during a relay in Melbourne, Australia, and briefly ran with it before being stopped by police.

Police said they interviewed the unidentified 19-year-old man, but he had not been charged with a criminal offense. A police spokesman described the man's actions as a prank.

ABORIGINES: Plan protest

An Aboriginal group formally applied for police permission to march to Sydney Airport in the five days leading up to the Olympics and on the Sydney office of Australian Prime Minister John Howard on the day of the opening ceremonies.

The Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council represents 118 local Aboriginal land councils in the state of New South Wales.

Police said they will consider whether the proposed protests endanger public safety before deciding whether to grant approval.

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