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Weldon's Ties to Serbian Businessman Part of Probe

That year, Weldon complained to the U.S. Trade and Development Agency about its cancellation of a grant to Itera to explore a gas field in Siberia.

In filings with the Senate clerk, Weldon has reported that Itera paid for a trip he took to New York in September 2002 and a one-day trip to Jacksonville in January 2003. He also reported that a nonprofit group directed by Itera officials financed his two-day visit to Jacksonville in November 2002.

Weldon, who has long advocated closer U.S.-Russian trade ties, listed another client of his daughter's firm, Saratov Aviation, as the financial sponsor of a three-day trip to Moscow in January 2003, the same month as a visit he took to Belgrade.

Weldon's chief of staff went to Belgrade in November 2003, initially listing the Karic family as his financial sponsor in a filing the next month with the Senate clerk. Two months later, after reporters for the Los Angeles Times questioned him about the trip, he amended the filing to state that he had reimbursed the company for his travel expenses.

Some watchdog organizations previously noted Weldon's support for companies that had little to do with his constituents in Delaware County and that paid fees to the firm operated by his daughter and Sexton, or to a close friend of Weldon's, lobbyist Cecilia Grimes.

"There seems to be a pattern of Congressman Weldon's activities overlapping with his private and personal interests," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, which monitored the efforts of Weldon and other lawmakers on behalf of companies that had contracts with their associates. "You can explain away one or two cases, but here you really have to question what's going on here and is it really in the interest of the U.S. taxpayers."

Weldon gave testimonials on behalf of a company, Advanced Ceramics Research, in two separate hearings of the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces, which he chairs. Weldon had invited the Arizona company's CEO to testify in 2004 and 2005 about what he characterized as its "very interesting work in developing state of the art composites that have increased performance while significantly reducing component cost."

The congressman lauded the company's work, noting its ability to produce "modern composites that lead to lighter weight, lower cost and tougher systems."

Advanced Ceramics Research paid Grimes $60,000 as its registered lobbyist in 2003 and 2004. An affiliate of Advanced Ceramics paid her an additional $40,000 during that time, according to her lobbying registration documents.

Efforts to reach Grimes at two phone numbers listed for her on lobbying registration forms were unsuccessful.

Weldon also supported an Italian defense contractor, Oto Melara, in a formal letter and testimony to the Armed Services Committee that recommended the Navy consider using the company's guns on its ships. Oto Melara has paid Grimes's firm $60,000 since she registered to lobby for it in June 2005, according to her lobbying reports .

Research director Lucy Shackelford and staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

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