Homes Raided In Rep. Weldon Influence Probe
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Federal agents raided the homes of Rep. Curt Weldon's daughter and one of his closest political supporters yesterday as part of an investigation into whether the veteran Republican congressman used his influence to benefit himself and his daughter's lobbying firm, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
The investigation focuses on actions the Pennsylvania congressman took that may have aided clients of the business created by his daughter, Karen Weldon, and longtime Pennsylvania political ally Charles Sexton, according to three of the sources.
A grand jury, impaneled in Washington in May, has obtained evidence gathered over at least four months through wiretaps of Washington area cellphone numbers and has scrutinized whether Weldon received anything of value, according to the sources. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.
The investigation focuses on Weldon's support of the Russian-managed Itera International Energy Corp., one of the world's largest oil and gas firms, while that company paid fees to Solutions North America, the company that Karen Weldon and Sexton operate.
The congressman, for example, intervened on Itera's behalf when U.S. officials canceled a federal grant to the company. He also encouraged U.S. companies to do business with Itera at a time when its reputation had been sullied by accusations of Russian corruption.
Weldon said in a prepared statement that he had done nothing wrong and would cooperate in the investigation "100 percent." Michael Puppio, a campaign spokesman, said Weldon hoped that "reliance on leaks would cease and the media would rely on facts that are verifiable."
Weldon said that the House ethics committee looked into the allegations in 2004 "and found that I had engaged in no wrongdoing." He said he was "extremely disappointed that we are discussing this topic three weeks before an election that could determine control of Congress."
Yesterday's raids of six locations in Pennsylvania and Florida were moved up in part because of leaks about the investigation late last week, according to two of the sources. Top federal prosecutors supervising the inquiry concluded early this month that they were progressing significantly on another front in the investigation and did not want to make their work public too soon by conducting searches, especially so close to the Nov. 7 elections.
McClatchy Newspapers reported Saturday that the FBI had recommended that Justice Department officials investigate Rep. Weldon's actions, leading to yesterday's searches.
Debra Weierman, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Washington field office, confirmed that the locations included the homes of Karen Weldon and Sexton; the suburban Philadelphia offices of Solutions North America; and the downtown Philadelphia offices of John Gallagher, a lawyer who represented Russian companies linked to Itera.
Two other sites searched were the U.S. headquarters of Itera International in Jacksonville, Fla., and a Jacksonville home, the sources said.
Prosecutors are usually loath to conduct raids against a public official so close to an election. But some involved in the investigation debated whether holding off could also appear to have been influenced by the election, sources said.