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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cecilia Grimes charged with destroying evidence

More bad news from Pennsylvania:

A Pennsylvania-based lobbyist was charged Tuesday with destroying evidence related to an FBI investigation into former Rep. Curt Weldon.

Prosecutors said in court filings that Cecilia Grimes threw travel receipts and other material that mentioned Weldon in the trash after she received grand jury subpoenas for those and other documents. FBI agents retrieved the documents from garbage cans outside Grimes' house. Authorities said she also threw out her Blackberry at a fast-food restaurant to keep the FBI from retrieving her e-mail.

Weldon, a former Republican lawmaker who represented a suburban Philadelphia district for 20 years, is not named in the court papers but is identified by his service as vice chairman of both the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees. The government's filing Tuesday is known as a criminal information and is typically part of a plea deal. A plea agreement hearing has been scheduled for July 25 in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Grimes' lawyers said she is "extremely remorseful for any mistake she has made in reference to this investigation" and that she would not be taking additional questions.

"Any suggestion that Ms. Grimes engaged in any inappropriate, illegal or improper conduct with regard to her role as a lobbyist is incorrect and unfounded," said the statement from the Montgomery, McCracken Walker & Rhoads law firm in Philadelphia.

The FBI turned its focus to Grimes as part of its investigation into whether Weldon agreed to help Grimes by supporting appropriations requests from her lobbying firm, based in Media, Pa., according to court documents.

Weldon's defense attorney, William Winning, did not immediately return a telephone call.

Weeks before the November 2006 election, FBI agents raided the homes of Weldon's daughter Karen Weldon and her business partner, Charles P. Sexton Jr., as they investigated whether the congressman helped them win nearly $1 million in foreign lobbying contracts.

Weldon lost the race to Democrat Joe Sestak.

Weldon's former chief of staff, Russell Caso Jr., of Rockville, Md., pleaded guilty in December to conspiring to commit honest-services fraud. Records show his sentencing has been deferred indefinitely while he cooperates with federal investigators.

Earlier this year, Weldon moved the last $80,000 in his campaign fund to a legal defense fund.