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US

Senior U.S. Olympic Committee member resigns over Salt Lake scandal

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RELATED VIDEO
CNN's Greg LaMotte reports on the latest developments in the 2002 Winter Games scandal
Windows Media 28K 56K
 
January 15, 1999
Web posted at: 1:25 a.m. EST (0625 GMT)

SALT LAKE CITY (CNN) -- A senior member of the United States Olympic Committee has resigned over snowballing allegations that bribes helped secure the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, CNN learned Thursday night.

Alfredo La Mont, senior director of international relations and protocol, stepped down after informing the USOC of a "previously undisclosed business relationship" with a former member of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee under investigation.

He was the first USOC official to fall victim to the scandal.

The news came after a whirlwind day, with federal investigators subpoenaing bank records in Salt Lake City while Olympic officals pledged the 2002 Winter Games would stay in the bustling Utah city.

USOC Executive Director Dick Schultz released a statement saying the committee had accepted La Mont's resignation. La Mont previously had been placed on a paid leave of absence.

"We concluded that Mr. La Mont's activities, which he indicated he pursued independent of his USOC responsibilities, nonetheless constituted a conflict of interest," Schultz said.

It has been alleged that the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee doled out gifts, health care benefits, questionable real estate deals and thousands of dollars in cash to IOC members, including at least one cash payment of $70,000.

The president and vice president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) resigned last week, and two other senior executives were placed on paid leave of absence.

Specifics of the alleged business deal by La Mont were not immediately available. But Schultz's statement said it involved Tom Welch, who was at the helm of Salt Lake City's quest for the games for the last 10 years.

Welch resigned in 1997 and last week was stripped of his $10,000-a-month consulting contract and $500,000 pension.

Schultz said the USOC had passed along information about the La Mont-Welch deal to the USOC special commission investigating the scandal, chaired by former Sen. George Mitchell, and the Department of Justice, which is conducting a separate investigation.

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said Olympic officials who took bribes must be punished.

"There needs to be some heads that roll at the International Olympic Committee. They need to be expelled...This didn't start in Salt Lake,'' Leavitt said.

The price of power

IOC rules ban gifts worth more than $150 to the 114 members who decide which cities will host the world's most glorified sporting event. The rules also apply to families of the committee members.

The IOC panel looking into the allegations will present its evidence and recommendations to the executive board on January 24 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Sources said the USOC committee was likely to wrap up its investigation by the end of the month.

Justice Department officials told CNN federal prosecutors who arrived in Salt Lake City Thursday to collect information and subpoena documents in what they said was the first step in a process expected to eventually lead to a parade of witnesses being called before a federal grand jury.

Sources said the prosecutors were from the fraud section of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. They are consulting with investigators from the FBI's Salt Lake City field office and individuals involved in the internal Olympic organization's investigation.

Here comes the taxman

One Washington official confirmed Internal Revenue Service criminal investigators were to join the probe to assist with possible violations of federal tax laws.

Attorney General Janet Reno refused any comment on the federal criminal probe. A senior official said four Justice attorneys had initially been assigned to look into the scandal along with FBI investigators.

With the scandal widening, members of the IOC and SLOC held a joint news conference in Salt Lake to assure the community the games would go on.

Anita DeFrantz, the vice president of the IOC, said she had just spoken with IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch and he maintained the Olympics would be held in Salt Lake.

He told her, she said, the city had earned the Olympics because of its merits, not bribes.

"I am a member of the IOC. I am in Salt Lake City and this is where the 2002 Games will be held," she said.

Asked if Samaranch would resign over the scandal, she said, "He is president of an organization that has 114 members of which a handful committed improper acts."

She added that Samaranch had her full support. Samaranch has maintained he knew nothing about the alleged scandal.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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