Washington Babylon — February 7, 2008, 12:00 pm

Curt Weldon: Back in business

Plus: News on the federal investigation

Former Republican Congressman Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania is currently under federal investigation due to charges that he steered business to a lobbying firm headed by his daughter. Now Weldon has started an international consulting firm and is using the contacts he established in Congress to steer business his own way.

Weldon lost his 2006 campaign for reelection not long after the FBI raided the office of his daughter Karen. Karen Weldon had little political experience when she began her lobbying career, but swiftly signed three contracts, worth roughly $1 million combined, with clients who had been helped in various ways by her father. To take one example, after Congressman Weldon repeatedly went to bat for Itera, a hugely controversial Russian energy firm, Itera became Karen Weldon’s first client, paying her firm $500,000 to “create good public relations so in the future Itera may sell goods and services to U.S. entities.”

During the past month, I’ve had conversations with multiple sources who told me that Weldon had now started his own consulting business, specializing in defense and homeland security. The staff at his consulting firm is said to include his daughter and former Hill staffers. While in Congress, Weldon held top positions at the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee.

I’m told that one of Weldon’s clients is Hyundai, which is said to have retained the former congressman in regard to business in Libya. In 2004 Weldon led two separate congressional delegations to Libya, where he met with top government officials and called for a restoration of normal ties between Washington and Tripoli, and the lifting of American sanctions. (Weldon later suggested that he personally convinced Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi to give up his nuclear program.)

Weldon’s attorney, William Winning, confirmed to me that Weldon is now “engaged in international consulting.” However, he said, it was a private business and it would be inappropriate to discuss Weldon’s clients or the firm’s personnel.

As to the ongoing investigation of Weldon, the latest news came in December when it was reported that Russ Caso, his ex-chief of staff, “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 an account in the Washington Post. The Post said that a top official at the consulting firm “met repeatedly with Weldon to seek the Pennsylvania Republican’s help in obtaining federal funds for the organization’s defense projects.” The charges against Caso are relatively minor and he is reportedly cooperating with investigators.

The consulting firm that paid Caso’s wife has not been named, but several sources have told me that it is linked to Vladimir Petrosyan, a mysterious Russian business official who lived in Washington until 2006 when he suddenly departed for Moscow. A friend of the Russian’s told me that Petrosyan left the U.S. because “he was in a bit of trouble,” though he declined to say what type of trouble. (Petrosyan could not be reached in Moscow. Caso’s attorney, Kelly Kramer, declined comment.)

Petrosyan was a fixture at Weldon’s office and briefed him on Russian affairs. He also had a number of business deals cooking involving joint U.S.-Russian non-proliferation and security matters. Weldon, sources told me, helped him establish contacts with the U.S. government and promoted his projects.

In July of 2003, Weldon wrote an op-ed in the Moscow Times in which he mentioned his efforts to improve U.S.-Russian relations by working with Petrosyan and a Russian government official named Alexander Kotenkov. In March of 2005–the same month that he gave a speech on the House floor wishing “a very happy belated birthday to Karen Petrosyan, son of my good friend Vladimir Petrosyan” – Weldon testified before the House Subcommittee on Europe and Emerging Threats. During his testimony, he called for a sweeping set of trade, energy, and defense initiatives with Russia. Sources told me that Petrosyan was involved in some of the deals Weldon talked up before the subcommittee.

Sources familiar with the Weldon investigation also told me that the congressman’s relationship with Cecelia Grimes was being closely scrutinized. Grimes, a close friend of Weldon’s, forged a career as a lobbyist who specialized in helping out firms with interests before Weldon’s congressional committees. Weldon took steps to help out at least three of her clients.

Like Karen Weldon, Grimes didn’t have much relevant background before embarking on her lobbying career. A real estate agent in Weldon’s district, she had studied computer science at Beaver College (now Arcadia University) and received a bachelor’s degree from Neumann College. (Grimes did have a well-connected lobbying partner, Cynthia Young, the daughter-in-law of Florida Congressman C.W. “Bill” Young.)

Winning declined to reply to questions about Grimes or Petrosyan, citing the federal investigation.

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