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USOC Turmoil Attracts Attention of Congress

Senator calls for meeting. Three more ethics committee members resign.

January 18, 2003|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), architect of the 1978 law that directs Olympic sports in the United States, on Friday ordered top leadership of the U.S. Olympic Committee to Washington for an emergency meeting, saying that ongoing reports of ethics-related turmoil within the organization are "troubling."

Meantime, three of the 10 members of the USOC's ethics oversight committee resigned Friday in the wake of the executive committee's decision Monday to take no disciplinary action against Chief Executive Lloyd Ward in a controversy linked to a proposal for the 2003 Pan American Games.

Five USOC officials have resigned since Monday -- even as the executive committee, in a twist illustrating the political infighting so typical of the USOC for so long, has turned on President Marty Mankamyer, seeking her ouster late Thursday by means of a no-confidence vote in a hurriedly scheduled conference call. No vote took place Thursday.

In addition to the three ethics panel members, ethics compliance officer Patrick J. Rodgers and executive committee member Brian Derwin also stepped down this week.

"This is just all the wrong stuff for the wrong reasons," Derwin said Friday. "It's heartbreaking."

In a statement issued from his Capitol Hill office, Stevens said "it may be time" to revise the 25-year-old sports act. "We cannot allow the strength the USOC has achieved since the Amateur Sports Act was enacted to be eroded by personnel problems or failure of its management," he said.

Later Friday, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), joined in Stevens' statement. Campbell is a 1964 U.S. Olympian in judo. The USOC is based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Washington meeting is due to be held by the end of the month; when is not clear. "It's high time Congress took action to protect its mandate," said John MacAloon, a professor at the University of Chicago and an expert in Olympic history and administration.

Mankamyer, who Sunday night under pressure indicated she would resign but changed her mind and now vows to stay on, said Friday, "I commend the senator's long-lasting support of the Olympic committee and what it stands for and I welcome any assistance he can provide in getting our athletes ready and our organization in top shape."

Ward did not return a phone call.

Since 1978, the USOC has grown into an enormous business, with an annual revenue approaching $125 million.

The U.S. team won the medal count at the last two Summer Games, with 97 in Sydney in 2000 and 101 in Atlanta in 1996. At the 2002 Winter Games, U.S. athletes won a team-record 34 medals.

But the USOC's structure invites power struggle.

There are parallel tracks of authority -- the volunteers and the staff. The volunteers -- the president, 22-member executive committee and 120-member board of directors -- set policy. The chief executive and staff run the USOC day to day.

Turf wars recur with regularity, the infighting complicating the resolution of alleged doping scandals, leadership turnover and, recently, episodes of ethics-related controversy.

Late Friday, for instance, 16 members of the executive committee issued a statement welcoming congressional review. But the statement went on to jab at "certain [USOC] members" whose "recent conduct," not detailed, was described as trying to "abuse [the ethics] process."

A USOC ethics board report made public Monday said that Ward had "created the appearance of a conflict of interest" after directing USOC staff to make introductions on behalf of Detroit-based Energy Management Technologies to Pan Am organizers in the Dominican Republic. The company had ties to Ward's brother and a childhood friend. No contract has been signed.

The report, however, recommends no disciplinary action, and the executive committee took none. Ward has apologized for what he called an "error in judgment" but has said he did "nothing wrong."

Rodgers, the ethics compliance officer, said in resigning Wednesday that the chief of the ethics board, Kenneth M. Duberstein, a former White House chief of staff, had told him, in an apparent reference to the ethics inquiry, "to make this go away." Duberstein denies any impropriety.

Thurgood Marshall Jr., the ethics board's vice chairman, called Rogers' allegation regarding Duberstein "totally inconsistent with the way Ken has functioned in this process and other contexts."

Marshall also said he remained confident the panel had "come to the right place" in making its deci- sion.

After e-mailing his resignation Friday from the ethics committee, Edward S. Petry, executive director of the Belmont, Mass.-based Ethics Officers Assn., said in a telephone interview, "It's my recollection that no member of the ethics oversight committee at any time during any of our conference calls ever argued that [Ward's ] actions were not a violation."

A source familiar with the ethics board's work, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday, "We specifically discussed whether to use 'violation' or not, and we all agreed not to use the word."

Also resigning Friday from the ethics board were John T. Kuelbs, general counsel and senior vice president at Teledyne Technologies, and Stephen D. Potts, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. Potts said in his resignation e-mail, "I have lost confidence in the USOC's commitment to enforcement of its code of ethics."

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