One week after rejecting a plea bargain, the two top officials in Salt Lake City’s Olympics bid were indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury for their alleged roles in an international vote-buying scheme to bring the Games to Utah.
The 15-count indictment, brought in Salt Lake City, alleges that Thomas Welch and David Johnson “offered and paid $1 million to influence the votes of more than a dozen International Olympic Committee members,” the Justice Department said Washington.
Welch, 55, the former president of the Salt Lake City Olympic bid committee, and Johnson, 41, the ex-vice president, “prepared and executed a series of bogus contracts and falsified … books, records and other publicly available documents so as to conceal their activities,” the Justice Department statement said.
The Justice Department also said Welch and Johnson “personally diverted $130,000” in bid committee income.
Franklin Servan-Schreiber, director of communications and new media for the International Olympic Committee, told ABCNEWS.com: “It appears that no IOC member has been indicted. That’s all I know at this time, and therefore it’s very difficult for me to comment. … We’re very glad that we can get this over with.”
The United States Olympic Committee said in a formal statement, “The indictments issued today represent another important step to bringing closure to this matter. With the investigation apparently complete, we look forward to attention once again being focused on the athletes of the world. …”
The two were charged with one count of conspiracy, five counts of mail fraud, five counts of wire fraud and four counts of interstate travel in aid of racketeering. Welch resigned from the Salt Lake City Olympic Bid Committee in 1997 and Johnson resigned in 1999.
Each of the charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The indictment followed the collapse of negotiations aimed at a plea bargain.
Last week, Welch and Johnson rejected a deal that would have had them plead guilty to a scheme to obstruct the Internal Revenue Service from collecting taxes. That strategy builds on the case of a former U.S. Olympic official who admitted evading taxes in a secret consulting agreement with Salt Lake City bidders.
“The idea that we defrauded the bid committee or anybody else is preposterous. So is the charge that we bribed anybody,” Welch said in a statement.
Later, outside his home in Huntington Beach, Calif., he said: “We will be acquitted and we will present a defense that the people of Utah will understand.”
Johnson’s lawyer, Max Wheeler, had said Welch and Johnson consider themselves scapegoats for the vote-buying scandal, which has been investigated by the Justice Department for 1 1/2 years.
A Salt Lake ethics panel found that the bidders lavished more than $1.2 million in cash, gifts, travel and other inducements on members of the IOC and their relatives. The panel largely blamed Welch and Johnson.
Bid trustees, including Gov. Mike Leavitt, have insisted they were kept in the dark by Welch and Johnson.
Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, had said he hoped Welch and Johnson could reach a settlement that would end the scandal. Romney was brought in to clean up the organization after the scandal broke in December 1998.
Scandal Prompted IOC Resignations
In the wake of the scandal, 10 IOC members resigned or were removed from the 105-year-old organization, and the organizing committee’s upper management was replaced.
Communications executive David Simmons pleaded guilty to tax fraud and admitted conspiring with bid leaders to provide a phony job for John Kim, son of South Korean IOC member Kim Un-yong. The younger Kim was indicted for allegedly entering the country on an illegally obtained visa and lying to the FBI.
Former USOC International Relations Director Alfredo La Mont of Colorado Springs, Colo., pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns and admitted to conspiring with two unidentified bid officials in the process.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.