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When Karen Weldon and her business partner, Charles Sexton Jr., set up their lobby and consulting shop in 2002, they had a connection no money could buy: Weldon’s father, Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.). Last week’s FBI raid of six locations in two states — including the Pennsylvania office of the consulting shop, Solutions Worldwide (and its sister business, Solutions North America); the homes of Karen Weldon, Sexton, and their lawyer, John Gallagher; and the Jacksonville, Fla., offices of Itera International Energy Corp., a client of Solutions — have left Rep. Weldon’s political future in question. The congressman’s residence and offices have not been searched. Based on the raids, the scope of the inquiry appears to be focused on whether Rep. Weldon used his influence to help his daughter’s business. The raids come two years after Karen Weldon and Sexton’s lobbying group came under fire after a Los Angeles Times report that Weldon had used her father’s political ties to secure almost $1 million in contracts. Republicans have criticized the FBI’s timing in performing the raids three weeks before the November midterm elections, as the GOP is struggling to maintain control of the House amid a slew of Republican scandals, including the recent page scandal which led to the resignation of Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.). Weldon, a 10-term congressman who is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, is embroiled in a tight race against Democratic challenger Joe Sestak. Weldon has faced criticism for his vote on the Iraq war and for taking campaign donations from military contractors Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. Before the raids, the two were even in the polls. “It’s definitely a tougher environment than in 2004,” says Nicholas Christopher, a Republican strategist. “Weldon hasn’t had a competitive race in 10 years.” Rep. Weldon, Karen Weldon, and Sexton did not return calls for this article. PULLING THE STRINGS After enduring a media firestorm in 2004, Karen Weldon and Sexton dropped completely off the radar in Washington, working behind the scenes in their Pennsylvania and D.C. offices, and using other lobby shops to work Capitol Hill. They stopped representing clients that required public disclosure forms. Although the firm maintains its Connecticut Avenue Northwest office overlooking Morton’s Steak House, a favorite watering hole for power brokers in Washington’s central business district, what appears to be a top-floor deluxe suite for Solutions actually is a nondescript, beige shared office space with four receptionists who transfer calls to multiple offices that can be rented by the hour, month or year. The office is emblematic of the way Weldon, a former Boeing employee, and Sexton, a longtime Pennsylvania Republican fund-raiser, operated in town. Karen Weldon wasn’t a familiar face in Washington, according to several Republican lobbyists who have worked for the Pennsylvania delegation. Sexton, however, is known for his deep ties with the elder Weldon and as a legend in Pennsylvania politics from his days as finance chairman of Weldon’s campaigns. By 2005, Solutions had secured at least one new client, Ansar Group Inc., a Philadelphia-based health care technology firm. Instead of directly lobbying for the company, Solutions sought out the lobby shop Washington Strategies. According to Senate disclosure forms, Washington Strategies, headed by ex-Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s former deputy chief of staff, William Jarrell, registered to lobby on budget, defense, and aerospace issues for Solutions Worldwide, which is characterized as a “defense health firm.” “Karen, throughout that set of meetings, made it very clear she would not be dealing with her dad, and to be honest with you, she was one of the most energetic representatives I’ve seen,” says Jarrell. The forms do not disclose that Solutions’ actual client is Ansar Group, which was seeking appropriations for two battlefield health care products. (Ansar Group did not return calls.) Washington Strategies’ Jarrell and Mark O’Connell, former chief of staff to Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), worked for about three months for Ansar, but after submitting an appropriations request through a Pennsylvania lawmaker, Ansar stopped working with Washington Strategies. “There wasn’t enough time to engage the Armed Services Committee because Ansar dropped the project right after we made the request,” says O’Connell. He says the request was not made through the offices of Reps. Saxton or Weldon. According to a 2005 midyear report and a 2005 year-end termination report, Washington Strategies billed Solutions $40,000 in lobbying fees for the work. Although law firms and lobby shops can register on behalf of their clients, if the payments are more than $10,000, the shops must disclose when the retainers come from a third party. According to Senate disclosure forms, Solutions, not one of its clients, paid the lobbying retainer. “The whole overarching method that needs to be adhered to in filling out these forms is to follow the money, and if the flow of money continues from a source that’s not identified on the form, then there is something wrong with the filing,” says Kenneth Gross, an election law expert from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Solutions also filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in August 2005 against its client the Karic Foundation for more than $250,000 in unpaid fees, according to court documents. Solutions signed on to represent the Karics, a Serbian family who was close to former Serbia and Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milosevic, in March 2003 after Rep. Weldon pushed the United States to grant the family visas. According to the consulting agreement filed with the Department of Justice, the Karics were supposed to pay Solutions $240,000 annually. The Karic Foundation, a nonprofit that says it is a charity, breached the consulting agreement by failing to pay Solutions’ monthly fees and by not reimbursing the company for expenses, according to the complaint written by Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz counsel Craig Young. Two months after filing the complaint, Solutions dismissed the action. Young declined to comment. The Karic Foundation and Saratov Aviation Plant are the two Solutions clients besides Itera that have been linked to Rep. Weldon. Itera, a Russian energy company, signed on to pay Solutions $500,000 a year for public relations work to create better relationships with the United States. Solutions helped set up a scholarship program and provided strategy for business opportunities, including an investment in an international telecommunications business, Mobtel Inc., according to Justice Department filings. Solutions registered Saratov Aviation with the Department of Justice to sell aviation equipment to the United States. According to the registration, Weldon and Sexton were paid $20,000 monthly and originally had a 10 percent commission for business they generated. Since 2004 the firm has not filed any new reports with the Justice Department. A MATTER OF TIMING Rep. Weldon has criticized the FBI’s timing of the raids as a left-wing conspiracy fueled by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed the original complaint against him in 2004. “He’s insane,” says Melanie Sloan, head of CREW, of Weldon and his conspiracy theory. “A Republican Justice Department is doing this so close to a hotly contested election where they need every seat,” says Sloan. But she does concede, “It is surprising.” The FBI moved forward with the raid because it was concerned information about the ongoing investigation was likely to be leaked, according to news reports. According to former Justice Department lawyers, the FBI typically doesn’t take action on congressional investigations after Labor Day in an election year. “It has always been a really tricky issue,” says Randall Eliason, the former chief of the public corruption and government fraud section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington. “You’re affecting the election no matter what you do.” Rep. Weldon continues to fight and speak out on the FBI investigation, even though most criminal defense lawyers say he’s treading into murky territory. “Public officials have got a different set of imperatives, and a public official who is under investigation but who wants to remain a public official simply can’t kind of retreat into his shell the way that an ordinary person under investigation can,” says Robert Luskin of Patton Boggs. “It really forces folks in that situation to engage in what a criminal defense lawyer calls risky behavior.”
Anna Palmer can be contacted at [email protected]. Legal Times reporter Joe Crea contributed to this article.

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