Originally created 02/21/99

Mitchell says ethics inquiry of scandal will look ahead



COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- An elite ethics panel report on the Salt Lake Olympic bribery scandal will focus on how to make sure such cases don't recur, the head of the investigation said Saturday.

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell said the details and focus of his commission's two months of work will be finalized over the next week, with the report issued on schedule March 1.

"We believe personally and strongly in the high ideals of the Olympic movement," he said. "We are deeply concerned about the adverse affect of all the recent revelations."

Mitchell, whose commission is an independent ethics council to the U.S. Olympic Committee, briefed the USOC's executive committee in closed-door session.

Revised drafts will be finished early in the week, with final work then done on detail and focus, he told a news conference.

He refused to talk about specifics or to say if new cases of wrongdoing by bidders was found.

Investigators met in the USOC's headquarters city Friday and Saturday, spending more than 13 hours going over evidence, according to Mitchell.

He said a "substantial number" of people the commission asked for information refused to cooperate because of a Justice Department inquiry into the scandal.

"But there is more than enough information in the public record to provide a sufficient basis and support for our conclusions and recommendations," he said.

Mitchell said he had read hundreds of media stories about the scandal. The USOC's own inquiry, conducted by the law firm of Hogon & Hartson, also has turned over 22 boxes containing 200,000 documents to the Mitchell commission.

USOC president Bill Hybl said the committee's own investigation was 96-97 percent complete and would contain no new bombshells.

While there's a week to go, Mitchell said he had not seen anything in the investigation that shocked him. But he acknowledged that the Salt Lake case had hit the Olympics hard and must never happen again.

"In our small way, we want to make sure that the staging of the Olympic Games is in accordance with the same high standards and integrity expected in the performance of athletes during the games," he said.

Asked why the report would focus on looking ahead rather than finding new evidence of improper actions, Mitchell replied: "That's what we were asked to do."

The USOC said it had no plans to investigate Atlanta's successful quest for the 1996 Summer Games. Charlie Battle, the head of International Relations for Atlanta's bid, said this week that his group gave gifts in excess of IOC rules but had not tried to buy votes.

Atlanta's response to the IOC's request for information on possible improper activities by committee members during the bid would be sent to the international panel by the end of next week, USOC spokesman Mike Moran said. Atlanta officials already have said that their reviews failed to find any wrongdoing.

The Mitchell commission is one of at least five sports and government bodies investigating the bribery scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's successful bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

A Salt Lake ethic commission found 24 International Olympic Committee members took some $1.2 million in cash, medical care, lavish gifts and other improper inducements from Utah bidders.

Nine IOC members have resigned or been expelled and 13 others remain under investigation.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that the FBI has expanded its investigation and is looking into allegations that Tom Welch, the bid committee president, and his secretary, Stephanie Pate, forged the name of Welch's ex-wife to a joint bank account.

The report said the money was sent to Pate's address but that it wasn't clear how it was used.

Meanwhile Mitt Romney, the Boston venture capitalist who took over earlier this month as Chief Executive Director of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, said his job was to restore trust in the 2002 Games and return the focus to sports.

"A few people in Salt Lake's bid made some serious errors and that has drawn attention away from the athletes," Romney said.

He said the Salt Lake Games would prove to be "the best Winter Games in history," even though they will be conducted under unprecedented scrutiny.

"I think any time there is a breach of trust at the top of an organization that organization is placed under a microscope," Romney said. "I believe we deserve special review, and I believe we will come through with flying colors."

The new SLOC Chief said he would make sure each organizing committee member has an annual ethics review and that he expected any board member with conflicts of interest between private and Olympic work to resign.

The USOC, meanwhile, said it was convinced that commitments to U.S. athlete training and support made by Salt Lake bidders had been honored in full.

Jim Page, the committee's assistant executive director for sports, said at least 20 American winter athletes were attending the University of Utah under aid programs and that up to half of the 2002 U.S. Winter Games team would be living and training in the Salt Lake area by the end of next year.

Page also released documents showing that Howard Peterson, then executive director of U.S. Skiing, had signed off on the program in 1993. Peterson alleged last week that Salt Lake owed $3 million for training and support programs it never instituted.

"We believe this has fulfilled a spirit of the documents and taken it a step further," Moran said.

Peterson however, said he remained concerned that Salt Lake's pledge has not been fully met.

"I don't doubt there are a number of programs that the USOC has funded," Peterson said from his Park City, Utah home. "But that is a lot different from some of the promises in Salt Lake's bid document."