WASHINGTON—Pennsylvania congressman Curt Weldon, under investigation for allegedly trading his influence to get lobbying business for one of his daughters, also has helped corporations that have hired another daughter, a friend and some of his former aides.
Federal Election Commission reports show that within months of Weldon's advocacy on their behalf, three of these firms and their executives gave more than $95,000 in political contributions to the 10-term Republican.
Most of those donations were made in 2001 and 2002 to an obscure "soft money" account that helped foot unspecified travel expenses for Weldon and his top aide, according to the FEC filings.
Weldon's financial and lobbying relationships helped cement his rise to power as the vice chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, but now they've drawn the FBI's attention as part of a Justice Department criminal investigation into possible congressional corruption.
Weldon, who's up for re-election on Nov. 7, has denied any wrongdoing and charged that the FBI investigation is part of a left-wing conspiracy. He's expressed confidence that he will be cleared. His lawyer, William Winning of Philadelphia, did not respond to phone messages for comment.
It's often difficult to tell where Weldon's official business ends and his family's and friends' personal business begins:
_Weldon's younger daughter, Kimberly, worked part time in 2003 for one of her older sister's lobbying clients, a foundation run by the family of two Serbian brothers for whom Weldon tried to help obtain U.S. visas. She now works for an Italian defense company that got Weldon's help in trying to reverse a Navy decision to buy deck guns from a U.S. competitor.
_Pennsylvania real estate agent Cecilia Grimes, who says she's a longtime family friend of Weldon, became a lobbyist in 2003 and has since landed at least 10 clients, several of whom Weldon has helped.
_On May 26, 2002, the president of International Engineering & Manufacturing Ltd., which owns a 26,000-square-foot plant in Glenolden, Pa., in Weldon's district, hailed the congressman as his company's "champion," a month after the firm's parent, a Virginia lobbying group, hired Weldon's chief of staff. The two companies have been Weldon's biggest campaign donors over the last six years.
These dealings haven't been identified as central to the federal grand jury investigation into possible corruption, and it isn't clear whether the grand jury will scrutinize them or whether it's already doing so.
Sources familiar with the criminal investigation have said the probe revolves around contracts for Karen Weldon, who at 28 joined a longtime Weldon political ally in Delaware County, Pa., to set up a lobbying and consulting firm, Solutions North America, in late 2002. Solutions soon won contracts worth $1 million a year from two Russian companies and from the Serbian Karic Foundation USA.
On Oct. 13, McClatchy Newspapers first disclosed the Justice Department inquiry into whether Weldon swapped legislative favors for those contracts. Three days later, FBI agents swept the homes and the office of Karen Weldon and her lobbying partner and raided the offices of a longtime Philadelphia associate of Weldon and a Russian-owned, Florida-based energy company.
A government official familiar with the investigation also confirmed that the FBI gathered evidence through at least four months of cell phone wiretaps and has examined whether Weldon himself benefited from his daughter's lobbying relationships.
The FBI didn't conduct raids on Kimberly Weldon or on real estate agent Cecilia Grimes.
Michael Barbera, who was Weldon's chief of staff from 1999 to 2002, said his ex-boss always had noble goals in mind and never asked who a company's lobbyist was. "We tried to help as many companies as we could every year," he said, so long as the proposal made sense, benefited the Philadelphia area and, if it was defense-related, met a military need.
It doesn't require much scratching, however, to turn up financial connections between Weldon and those seeking his clout.
An analysis by Dwight L. Morris and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in data analysis, found that since Jan. 1, 2001, Weldon has received more than $500,000 in political donations from defense interests, including executives and political action committees of companies that have opened plants in his district in Philadelphia's southwestern suburbs.
The biggest donors over the last six years have been a small company, International Engineering & Manufacturing (IEM), and its parent, the Arlington, Va., lobbying firm of Mehl, Griffin & Bartek (MGB).
Between Dec. 31, 2001, and Oct. 16, 2002, the two firms gave $76,603 in corporate checks—unregulated "soft money" of the kind that subsequently was banned in 2003—to a non-federal account of Weldon's political action committee. Executives of the two companies also have given Weldon $15,000 in traditional donations over the last six years.
MGB President Molly Griffin said that the first of the donations "were requested" because Weldon was running for Armed Services Committee chairman. "We believed in the candidate," she said. She didn't identify who asked for the funds.
In the spring of 2002, shortly after he gave up on his second bid for the chairmanship, Weldon showed up for the opening of IEM's plant in Glenolden. MGB had just hired Barbera, the congressman's chief of staff.
`So much of our work is with the Department of Defense, and we are so fortunate to have a champion like Curt Weldon," IEM President Mike Smith told a local newspaper at the time. "Without him, there would be no need for a facility this size."
MGB's Griffin declined to specify what Weldon did to fuel the subsidiary's growth, except to say that he assisted in earmarking appropriations for an Air Force program to replace aging parts on aircraft landing gear.
Air Force officials declined to say how much of the multimillion-dollar annual awards to the project's prime contractor, General Atomics Corp., went to IEM. General Atomics' PAC gave Weldon $11,000 in the 2002 and 2004 election cycles.
Griffin said that MGB, whose Web site boasts that it specializes in "targeted federal appropriations and policy actions," has "mostly not" gotten such help from Weldon, especially in marketing its ultrasonic scanner, which can identify liquids and solids in containers.
But at a news conference at the plant in July 2002, Weldon touted the scanners and said he expected "tens of thousands" to be put into use by Homeland Security agencies.
Griffin said that only 113 of the $22,000 devices, which were developed by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., have sold, mostly overseas and "not through any connections Weldon made for us."
Weldon's campaign and political action committee also have received more than $25,000 from employees of Itera International Energy Corp., the Russian subsidiary that hired Karen Weldon and is a focus of the Justice Department inquiry. Itera made a $5,000 corporate donation to Weldon's "soft money" account in 2002, and five company officers and directors, as well as other employees, donated at least $15,000 last April at a fundraiser hosted by a rug merchant in Jacksonville, Fla., where the firm is based.
Although Weldon has visited Itera's offices and attended the fundraiser, Itera employees were among more than 150 large donors to Weldon's re-election campaign whose occupations were listed as "not reported" on his campaign's FEC reports through late August. FEC rules require campaigns to make a good faith effort to identify the occupations of those who donate $200 or more.
In addition, no occupation was listed for Philadelphia lawyer John Gallagher, a $4,000 donor whose offices were among those searched this month. Gallagher has worked closely with Weldon on eastern European matters, and in 2003, Weldon proposed an amendment on the floor of the House of Representatives to bar U.S. aid to Moldova until Gallagher could recover a $2.5 million investment in a cognac factory that had been seized by the government of the former Soviet republic.
Both of Weldon's daughters wound up working a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol in 2003 for another client of Karen Weldon: the U.S. arm of a Serbian foundation run by relatives of brothers Bogoljub and Dragomir Karic.
The brothers, who were barred from entering the United States because of their ties to the late Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic, had obtained Weldon's help in a futile attempt to lift the restrictions.
Solutions North America's lobbying reports state that Karen Weldon was to be paid to manage the foundation. The foundation's 2003 tax return lists Kimberly as an unpaid director working two hours a week, but knowledgeable people said she drew a salary. The amount could not be learned.
In late 2005, Kimberly Weldon landed another job with ties to her father, performing community relations work in Washington and Pennsylvania for AgustaWestland, a helicopter maker for the Italian defense giant Finmeccanica. An Agusta spokesman, who didn't want to be named, called her "the best candidate" for the "low-paying" job and praised her as "one of our best employees."
The spokesman said Weldon was of little help in the firm's success in landing, with Textron Bell and Lockheed Martin, a $1.6 billion contract to build a 23-helicopter fleet, which will provide the next presidential helicopter. The publication Aviation Week & Space Technology, however, reported that Weldon was a key supporter of the winning bid. Since 2001, employees and PACs for Textron, Lockheed and AgustaWestland have given $77,050 to Weldon's campaign and his PAC for fellow Republicans.
Weldon also has aided another Finmeccanica subsidiary, Oto Melara North America Inc., pushing an amendment to require the Navy to revisit its decision to buy a U.S. rival's deck guns for a new fleet of 55 combat ships.
Oto Melara opened a plant in Weldon's district after he challenged the Navy's decision in 2004, arguing the United States should open markets to companies from allies such as Italy, which joined U.S. forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
When the amendment failed, Weldon sent the Navy letters demanding that the selection be reconsidered, said a Navy official who insisted upon anonymity. Weldon asked for a study comparing the Italian firm's 76-millimeter gun to a 57-millimeter gun made by BAE Systems' United Defense subsidiary.
United Defense spokesman Doug Coffey said its gun is far more versatile than the Italian one and has been selected four times for use in two Navy ships and a new Coast Guard cutter.
Oto Melara also hired Weldon's friend Grimes, the Pennsylvania real estate agent, in July 2005 as a lobbyist and by June 2006 had paid her $80,000, according to her lobbying reports.
Grimes, who didn't return phone calls, got her first lobbying clients in 2003 and racked up $100,000 in fees in her first two years, her disclosure forms show.
The Los Angeles Times early this year quoted one anonymous representative of a company as saying that a senior Weldon aide told him "it would be good to have (Grimes) on our side." A lawyer for the congressman denied that he or his aides ever urged Grimes' hiring, the paper reported.
After Grimes was retained by Advanced Ceramics Research Inc., a high-tech firm in Tucson, Ariz., Weldon invited the company's president, Anthony Mulligan, to testify twice before his tactical air and land forces subcommittee about the firm's cutting-edge manufacturing processes, artificial bones and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Mulligan told The Los Angeles Times that Grimes' lobbying of Weldon and others helped secure a $3 million contract, the firm's first via a defense appropriations bill.
(McClatchy correspondents Jonathan S. Landay and researcher Tish Wells contributed to this report.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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