The top two officials in Salt Lake City's scandal-marred Olympics bid rejected a Justice Department plea deal in the federal investigation of an international vote-buying scheme.
Lawyers for Tom Welch, the former leader of the successful bid to bring the 2002 Winter Games to Utah, and Dave Johnson, his chief deputy, said they turned down the deal Wednesday because it was too sweeping for the circumstances of the case.
"We will listen to any proposal that is consistent with the facts," Johnson's attorney, Max Wheeler, said Thursday.
The negotiations continued as a federal grand jury investigating the Olympic scandal convened Wednesday in Salt Lake City. The panel did not issue any indictments.
Wheeler said Welch and Johnson rejected a deal that would have them pleading guilty to a scheme to obstruct the IRS 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 bidders.
Richard Wiedis, the Justice Department attorney heading the investigation, was meeting with other government lawyers Thursday in Salt Lake City.
Welch and Johnson's attorneys were waiting for Wiedis to make a new plea offer.
Welch, who was on a fishing trip, was unavailable Thursday, and a call to Johnson was not answered.
The Justice Department investigation, now in its 17th month, is going no further than Welch and Johnson, who consider themselves scapegoats for the vote-buying scandal, Wheeler said.
A Salt Lake ethics panel found that the bid lavished more than $1.2 million in cash, gifts, travel and other inducements on members of the International Olympic Committee 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.
The government's attempt to wrangle tax pleas from bid leaders indicates the difficulty of proving more serious charges in the bribery scandal.
"There probably aren't the laws on the books to cover what many people feel is the real wrongdoing here. That's how they got Al Capone," said Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, who is a lawyer.
Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, said he hoped Welch and Johnson could reach a settlement that would bring an end to the scandal. Romney was brought in to clean up the organization after the scandal broke in December 1998.
In the wake of the scandal, 10 IOC members resigned or were removed from the 105-year-old organization, and SLOC'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 Korean IOC member Kim Un-yong. The younger Kim was indicted for entering the country on an illegally obtained visa and lying to the FBI.
Formr USOC international relations director Alfredo Lamont of Colorado Springs, Colo., pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns and admitted to conspiring with two unidentified bid officials in the process.
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