Romney's Shady Salt Lake Connections

In his quest for the White House, Mitt Romney has repeatedly made the case that he is a better manager than its current occupant. When his tenure at the helm of Bain Capital came under fire in the primaries, he shifted to stressing his rescue of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Those games had been nearly destroyed by a wide-ranging bribery scandal, and as Romney recounted in his 2004 memoir, Turnaround, he was the CEO brought in after the brouhaha who cleaned it up.

Although no one disputes that the Salt Lake Games were a managerial success that revived his public career, some of the contacts Romney made during that time were key figures in the scandal, yet he remains connected to some of them, and continues to receive their sizable campaign donations. The closeness of these bonds calls into question Romney's ethical compass.

Last month, The Daily Beast recounted the tale of one circle of Romney donors tied to a tainted Olympic contractor who has given more than a million dollars in campaign donations. After being granted immunity by prosecutors, the contractor, Sead Dizdarevic, admitted making $131,000 in cash payments to Romney's predecessors. The cash was used, at least in part, to subsidize the IOC gifts. Yet it was Romney, not his indicted predecessors, who awarded Dizdarevic the hospitality deal that's made him the ticket king of the Olympics to this day.

But Dizdarevic is hardly the only Romney donor with disturbing Olympic ties. David Simmons also testified in the 2003 federal trial of Romney's predecessors, in a case that was ultimately dismissed. But unlike Dizdarevic, Simmons pleaded guilty to a federal tax misdemeanor as part of a cooperation agreement that allowed him to avoid a multi-count felony indictment.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the guilty plea was connected to Simmons giving a fake job to John Kim, the son of a critical IOC member, to qualify him for a sham visa, and then submitting fraudulent tax and immigration filings to cover up the alleged conspiracy.

Since that time, Simmons and his family have given more than $317,000 to Romney and affiliated campaigns, and business associates of the family have added nearly $160,000 more. Simmons and his wife, Melinda, donated $32,100 themselves, going back to 2006.

In addition, one Simmons brother provided Romney's 2008 campaign with a private plane and another led the energy discussion at a policy roundtable fundraiser for Romney in Washington last February. A company whose board of directors consisted entirely of Simmons's father, all six of the Simmons siblings, and the spouse of one sibling, each one of whom has donated to Romney, was directly implicated in the Olympics scam that led to David Simmons's guilty plea.

The Romney campaign did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

The Simmons-engineered hiring of Kim was such a cornerstone of the federal case that the government put two other witnesses on during the trial to nail down the details and tried to extradite Kim, who was indicted on 17 counts (PDF) tied to the job and did six months in a Bulgarian cell rather than appear in a U.S. courthouse.

Kim's father, Kim Un Yong, the South Korean representative on the IOC and a powerhouse member of its executive board, received a "most serious" reprimand from the IOC for his Salt Lake conduct, and was later convicted in Korean courts of embezzling $3.3 million from sports organizations and taking $779,000 in bribes from former Olympic officials. When he was recommended for expulsion (PDF) from the IOC in 2005, the Ethics Commission decision cited Salt Lake as a partial rationale, saying that the IOC executive board considered his actions then "contrary to IOC ethics." (Two months before the IOC was to consider his expulsion, Kim Un Yong resigned his position.)

In addition to the job for John, the elder Kim's daughter, a modestly successful pianist, was paid $5,000 to perform as part of the Utah Symphony. Kim also reportedly got the Salt Lake committee to pay $15,802 to the University of Utah to cover tuition for the daughter of a Russian recording-company executive who'd issued a CD of another performance by Kim's pianist daughter.

According to court testimony, Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) president Tom Welch asked Simmons to hire Kim to secure his father's support for Utah's bid. Simmons also used fake contracts and phony invoices to conceal the fact that the SLOC and others were reimbursing him for the $118,000 in salary Simmons's company, Keystone Communications, was paying Kim. He continued paying Kim long after Kim ended his initial appearances at Keystone's New York office (stacks of checks were finally sent to Kim's home). Simmons even signed falsified immigration documents for Kim. He deducted Kim's salary as a Keystone business expense though he was fully reimbursed for it through these sham agreements.

The government used Simmons to authenticate 11 overt acts in the racketeering indictment of Welch and his deputy. Prosecutor Richard Wiedis told the judge that "the actions taken by members of the conspiracy that worked in the Keystone office, specifically Mr. Simmons" could have led to what he called "a wide-ranging conspiracy immigration fraud charge."

After several meetings with FBI agents, Simmons decided that he "didn't relish the idea" of facing felony tax and immigration fraud. The plea agreement, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, "included a government promise not to prosecute him for two potential felonies for submitting false information" to the INS and the Department of Labor "about Kim's employment status" to secure a green card.

Tags: 2002 winter olympics, daily beast, david simmons, john kim, mitt romney, sead dizdarevic, turnaround memoir, wayne barrett

    • Wayne Barrett
    • Wayne Barrett was a fixture at the Village Voice for almost four decades, doing his first investigative feature in 1973 and writing more than 2000 stories between then and 2011, when he left the paper. He has also written five books, including two on Rudy Giuliani, a biography of Donald Trump and City for S...

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