Justice is a funny thing. The American form of criminal justice sometimes looks more like musical chairs than anything else. When the music stops, if you don’t have a safe place to sit you’re probably in for a hard fall.
So it is that any day now, former Salt Lake City Olympic guru Tom Welch will be indicted—along with his onetime right-hand-man Dave Johnson—on federal criminal charges stemming from efforts to capture the 2002 Winter Games bid.
The heads of Welch and Johnson will be delivered up pretty much like the blueprint designed by the Salt Lake (Olympic) Organizing Committee Ethics Panel. Of course, the Ethics Panel didn’t have access to all the information. Without all the intricate budget details—which, apparently, have disappeared forever—it’s hard to know whether the Ethics Panel’s conclusion that Welch and Johnson acted alone is correct.
Without that information, Welch and Johnson could be at a disadvantage. The theory pushed by the U.S. Justice Department is that Welch and Johnson misled the Bid Committee. The duo allegedly spent millions to coax, convince and bribe IOC members to vote for Salt Lake City. And they did it, allegedly, without anyone else knowing.
Welch and Johnson might have defended themselves using budget documents that show others approved plans to persuade IOC members with gifts and cash. Too bad those documents are missing. Coincidence?
It’s difficult for most people to believe Welch and Johnson acted without the knowledge of board members, accountants, attorneys or even then-bid chairman Frank Joklik. But when the music stopped, all those accountants and board members had safe places to sit. Welch and Johnson did not. After all, somebody had to take the fall.
Do Welch and Johnson have enough information to defend themselves in court? In defending themselves, will they be able to demonstrate that others knew of the plan to, in effect, buy the Olympic bid? Or will Welch and Johnson be so overwhelmed by the government’s case that, lacking evidence, they will have to reach a plea arrangement?
If Welch and Johnson decide to fight it out in court, their cases could drag on till the Games in February 2002—not exactly good public relations. On the other hand, if they plead guilty and go quietly, the entire scandal could be brushed aside in time to attract more corporate sponsors for a successful Olympic extravaganza, Utah-style.
Justice is a funny thing. Welch and Johnson could be watching the Olympics from behind bars, while their former colleagues become dignitaries with front-row seats as the band strikes up the music for the Opening Ceremonies at Rice Stadium.