Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Search Warrants Served In Weldon Case

The noose seems to be tightening around Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA).

MOVING SWIFTLY in a criminal investigation involving U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, federal agents yesterday raided six locations in Philadelphia, in Delaware County and in Florida.

The probe apparently is focused on links between the congressman's official activities and clients of his daughter's lobbying firm, first reported in 2004 by the Los Angeles Times.

Weldon denied any wrongdoing by himself or his daughter.

Yesterday, the FBI carried away boxes of potential evidence from the homes of the two founders of the lobbying business - Karen Weldon, 32, who lives in Queen Village, and longtime Republican power broker Charles P. Sexton Jr., 70, who lives in Springfield, Delaware County.

Other warrants were served on the Media offices of the lobbying firm, North American Solutions Inc.; the Philadelphia office of attorney John J. Gallagher, a longtime friend of the Weldons who reportedly introduced Karen Weldon to one of her clients, a Russian aerospace firm; the Jacksonville offices of a Russian-based conglomerate known as Itera International Energy Corp., and a $7.5 million beachfront mansion in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., apparently owned by an Itera-related company.

The Republican congressman, already locked in the toughest re-election fight of his 20-year career in Washington, had previously brushed off questions about the L.A. Times disclosures, telling reporters that they'd been investigated and dismissed by the House Ethics Committee.

But the events of the last four days - the disclosure of the federal investigation by McClatchy Newspapers last Friday, and yesterday's sweeping search warrants - prompted Weldon to hold a 16-minute news conference late yesterday afternoon.

Weldon denied any wrongdoing by himself or his daughter, but refused to answer specific questions about services he reportedly performed for clients of his daughter's firm.

"I would absolutely never use my position to help anyone in an unusual way," Weldon said. "... My daughter doesn't need my help now, she never has, she's a very capable professional."

The congressman said his daughter did not intend to answer questions from the news media. Sexton did not return a call from the Daily News.

The L.A. Times reported in February 2004 that Weldon had gone to bat for at least three of the lobbying firm's clients - a Serbian family seeking U.S. visas in spite of ties to accused war criminal Slobodan Milosevic; a Russian aerospace manufacturer known as the Saratov Aviation Plant, for which Weldon pitched an idea to the U.S. Navy, and Itera, a company that obtained vast natural-gas fields in the breakup of the Soviet Union and was looking to expand its gas, timber and real-estate holdings in the U.S.

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