Ooh baby. U.S. District Judge David Sam doesn’t like the feds flying into Utah and telling us how to prosecute the Great Olympic Scandal. No sir. And he doesn’t like sneaky little prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office tying state bribery statutes to the federal Travel Act to hatch conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and racketeering charges in an attempt to serve up the heads of fallen Olympic hero Tom Welch and his sidekick Dave Johnson.
It’s the kind of hint reminiscent of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima: The feds might as well pack their tent—or cut a misdemeanor plea deal—because this thing is as good as over, the judge seemed to be saying at a recent hearing.
In basketball parlance it’s called a home job—the referee might not be unbiased.
• It’s a little bizarre, because Judge Sam is a federal judge. But he is, apparently, a Mormon and a Utahn first. And this whole Olympic scandal just doesn’t look good for either the church or the state—if you can separate them. You’ll remember our good friend Judge Sam. He’s the one who refused to rule on a suit claiming that Utah’s Department of Alcohol Beverage Control ban on liquor advertising was unconstitutional. So, it just sat on his desk for years and years. After all, how could he rule that the First Amendment includes advertising for distilled spirits and then show up at church on Sunday?
• None of that, of course, ought to reflect upon whether Welch and Johnson are guilty or innocent. But if federal prosecutors blow town before the July 30 trial date—and it’s becoming more likely every day that could happen—then Welch and Johnson won’t have the opportunity to clear their names in open court. Also, Gov. Mike Leavitt, former Mayor Deedee Corradini, Frank Joklik and the rest of Salt Lake’s Olympic underworld won’t have to testify about what they knew in front of dozens of members of national and international news media.
Salt Lake City’s Olympic nightmare could be over just like that. Scandal? What Scandal? Bribery charges? What bribery charges? Or as Gov. Leavitt likes to say, Olympic corruption didn’t start in Utah but it ended here—or something like that. For Utah’s leaders, not to mention Salt Lake City’s Olympic bid fat cats, an evaporation of federal bribery charges would be a godsend. That’s why, at this very moment, there is feverish movement in that direction.
• Federal prosecutors are now weighing one simple equation: Are they in too deep after years of investigation, depositions and lawyer time to simply hoist the white flag? Or should they pin hope against hope on a jury that may very well view the scandal in terms similar to that of Judge Sam. That is to say, this is Utah and that’s just the way we do things here. So why don’t you pack up that pin-striped briefcase of yours and haul your skinny little butt back to Washington.