SALT LAKE CITY – A federal judge on Monday threw out four of 15 felony charges in the Olympic bribery case, dealing a setback to prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge David Sam said federal prosecutors improperly built their felony racketeering case on a Utah misdemeanor law prohibiting bribery or kickbacks in commercial dealings.
He said he would elaborate on his reasons later. At a hearing last week, however, he questioned why prosecutors were making a federal case out of the scandal, and suggested they had more important things to do. He also noted that state prosecutors declined to bring a case under the Utah law.
Sam dismissed the racketeering counts and indefinitely postponed the July 30 trial of the two men who led Salt Lake City's successful effort to land the 2002 Winter Olympics. The judge said he would rule later on the defendants' request that he dismiss the 11 other counts.
Tom Welch and Dave Johnson were indicted by a federal grand jury last summer for conspiring to bribe members of the International Olympic Committee by plying them and relatives with $1 million in cash, scholarships, travel, gifts and medical care. They also were accused of hiding or disguising the payments and perks from their board of trustees.
Lawyers for the Olympic defendants said the remaining felony bribery and fraud charges could fall in a domino effect.
"The fraud counts are based on the notion that there was bribery and a cover-up. If as a legal matter there was no bribery, then the fraud charges have to be dismissed as well," said Welch lawyer Bill Taylor.
The single conspiracy count could be dismissed because it, too, is based on the Utah bribery law, he said.
Justice Department attorney John Scott refused comment.
Taylor said defense lawyers will redouble their efforts to dismiss the fraud charges using other legal arguments. He said it was incongruous that Welch and Johnson succeeded in winning the games but were charged with defrauding their employer, the board of trustees.
"There was no conflict of interest, disloyalty or personal gain," Taylor said.
Welch and Johnson issued a statement Monday.
"We are delighted at the court's ruling today. We believe it confirms what we have said from the beginning: We committed no crime. The Salt lake bid committee conducted its bid consistently with the advice we were given and the conduct of other successful bid cities."
The bid leaders added, "We hope Judge Sam will agree that this entire indictment must be dismissed and that we and our families can resume our lives and the community can celebrate the winter games without a cloud hanging over them."