SALT LAKE CITY — Two former leaders of Salt Lake City’s successful bid to host the 2002 Winter Games were indicted on Thursday for spearheading an alleged $1 million cash-for-votes campaign to lure the games, the US Justice Department said.

The indictments — the fourth prosecution to date — come 19 months before Utah is set to host the Winter Olympics.

Department officials said a federal grand jury here returned a 15-count indictment against the two former Salt Lake City bid committee leaders, Tom Welch, 55, and David Johnson, 41, after plea bargain talks with them collapsed.

According to the indictment, the two paid $1 million of Olympic organising funds to influence the votes of more than a dozen International Olympic Committee members.

The two have maintained their innocence and have said that other Olympic officials knew exactly what was being done to lure the Games.

Three others have been indicted in the scandal, but none as high-ranking as Welch and Johnson.

The Justice Department began its investigation in December 1998 after allegations that organisers of the Salt Lake City Olympic Games gave cash, scholarships, medical care and other gifts to International Olympic Committee members.

Welch, the former president of the committee that bid to bring the 2002 Winter Games to Utah, and Johnson, the Salt Lake City Olympic Organising Committee vice president, soon became the focus of the investigation after news of the scandal broke.

The indictments were announced after negotiations in Washington with federal prosecutors broke down on Monday after defence attorneys rejected a deal that could have sent their clients to prison.

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, the Justice Department said.

The Justice Department investigation was handled by prosecutors from Washington after the US Attorney’s office in Salt Lake recused itself from the case.

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, who will be in office during the Olympic Games, said the indictments came as no surprise. ‘They want their day in court and they deserve it,’ Anderson said moments after the indictments were announced.

Reuters

Source: SOCOG