Ex-Staffer To Weldon Agrees to Guilty Plea

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Former congressman Curt Weldon's chief of staff has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges for allegedly helping a consulting firm championed by Weldon obtain federal funds and for concealing money the firm paid his wife, according to court papers filed yesterday.

Russell James Caso Jr. and a top official at the unnamed nonprofit consulting firm met repeatedly with Weldon to seek the Pennsylvania Republican's help in obtaining federal funds for the organization's defense projects, according to the court papers.

The "criminal information," a document filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Washington, could not have been submitted without the defendant's permission. It indicates that a plea agreement has been reached. A federal judge has scheduled a hearing Friday on the charges against Caso.

Federal prosecutors make no accusations of wrongdoing against Weldon, a former 10-term Republican from Pennsylvania. A grand jury last year investigated whether he had acted improperly to help clients of his daughter's consulting firm. The firm named in the court papers filed yesterday is not affiliated with Weldon's daughter.

Weldon was defeated in a reelection bid last year after the grand jury probe became public.

The documents say that Weldon, who is identified as "Representative A," directed Caso to take many of the steps he followed to help win federal funds for the unnamed consulting firm. Weldon served on the governing council of the nonprofit firm, whose stated mission was to help American companies operate in Russia, according to court papers.

Prosecutors charge that Caso "intentionally" concealed $19,000 in payments from the consulting firm to his wife by failing to report them in his 2005 congressional disclosure forms "even though he knew he was required to do so." They further allege that the payments and Caso's agreements with the consulting firm's "general secretary" constituted an illegal conspiracy that deprived the U.S. government of Caso's "honest services."

Caso's attorney Kelly B. Kramer declined to comment yesterday. Weldon's attorney William Winning also declined to comment on yesterday's development.

"I haven't read the information," Winning said. "I haven't spoken with my client."

The papers indicate that Weldon was a "strong supporter" of the consulting firm. He instructed Caso to organize and attend meetings with high-level officials in executive branch agencies where Weldon and Caso argued that the firm's proposals should receive federal funding.

One proposal was described as an effort to "facilitate cooperation with respect to joint missile defense activities." The other was to "reduce the risk of the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons from Russia to rogue nations."

After his election defeat in November 2006, Weldon joined Defense Solutions of Exton, Pa., as the company's chief strategic officer. Caso joined Avineon in Alexandria as vice president of strategic development. Caso had been Weldon's national security adviser and chief of staff.

In October 2006, the FBI raided the homes of Weldon's daughter and a close friend of Weldon's while investigating whether the congressman improperly helped the pair win lobbying and consulting contracts.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the documents filed yesterday raise more questions than they answer.

"What's missing here are some facts," she said. "Caso is just meeting with executive branch officials at Weldon's direction, and then his wife gets $19,000? What happened?"

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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