FBI targets Weldon in influence-peddling probe

FBI agents raided the homes of Rep. Curt Weldon’s daughter and a longtime political friend yesterday as part of an investigation into whether the Pennsylvania Republican used his influence to steer $1 million in foreign business to his lobbyist daughter.

Armed with search warrants, agents from the FBI’s offices in Washington and Philadelphia descended on four locations in the Philadelphia area, including Karen Weldon’s home in the Queen Village section, and two locations in Jacksonville, Fla.

Among the houses raided was the Springfield, Pa., residence of Charles P. Sexton Jr., Miss Weldon’s business partner and the congressman’s close friend. The agents also searched the offices of Solutions North America Inc. (SNA) in Media, Pa., the lobbying and consulting business operated by Miss Weldon, 31, and Mr. Sexton, 69.

Mr. Weldon’s home and offices were not targeted in the raids.

“What I find ironic, if there is an investigation, is that no one would tell me until three weeks before the election,” Mr. Weldon told reporters yesterday during a campaign appearance in Media.

Denying any wrongdoing by himself or his daughter, Mr. Weldon called the investigation politically motivated and challenged the timing of the raids.

“I’ve never helped my daughter get anything,” he said. “My kids are qualified on their own.”

Federal law-enforcement authorities said the FBI is investigating whether Mr. Weldon used his political influence as a 10-term congressman and senior member of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees to help his daughter’s firm secure at least three lobbying and consulting contracts.

Last week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee mailed fliers to voters in the 7th District, where Mr. Weldon is in a tight race with Democratic challenger Joe Sestak, accusing Miss Weldon of getting help from her father on lobbying projects.

Records show that Miss Weldon and Mr. Sexton, former chairman of the Springfield Republican Party, started SNA in September 2002. Three of the company’s clients — Itera International Energy Corp. and Saratov Aviation, both in Russia, and Dragomir and Bogoljub Karic, residents of Serbia — reportedly have ties to Mr. Weldon.

The authorities said Mr. Weldon led a congressional delegation to Russia in 2002, where he visited with Itera International officials just before the firm signed with SNA. Two days after a $500,000 contract with the firm was signed, the authorities said, Mr. Weldon co-hosted an event at the Library of Congress honoring Itera International’s chairman.

In January 2003, Itera International opened U.S. offices in Jacksonville, paying for Mr. Weldon to attend the opening.

The authorities also said Mr. Weldon and his daughter visited Saratov Aviation in January 2003, after which the firm signed a $20,000-a-month contract with SNA.

Yesterday, Mr. Weldon also questioned the need for an FBI investigation, saying the House ethics committee looked into the contracts awarded to his daughter’s company soon after the Los Angeles Times reported on them in February 2004.

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