WASHINGTON (AP) — A lobbyist was sentenced Friday to three years probation for destroying evidence about her ties with former Pennsylvania congressman Curt Weldon, who is under FBI investigation.
Cecelia Grimes of Parkesburg, Pa., broke down in tears Friday as she apologized in court and said she would take back her actions if she could. She admitted that she threw her BlackBerry into an Arby’s restaurant garbage can and put other records of her involvement with Weldon’s campaign events out with the trash to hide them from an FBI investigation.
“It was stupid and I have no excuse for it,” she said haltingly as she tried to compose herself. Two rows full of friends and family looked on in the courtroom, many of them also crying. “I just panicked and acted carelessly.”
U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. said she must spend the first five months of her probation on electronic home monitoring and pay a $3,000 fine. He said some reasonable people may find his sentence lenient and noted that people have been incarcerated for less. He encouraged Grimes, 43, to take the opportunity to live the rest of her life free from crime.
Court documents say federal authorities have been looking into whether Weldon agreed to help Grimes by supporting appropriations requests from her lobbying firm. The Republican lawmaker lost his seat in 2006 after representing suburban Philadelphia for 20 years. He has not been charged with a crime.
Grimes is the second person tied to Weldon to plead guilty to a crime and cooperate with the government. Weldon’s former top aide, Russell James Caso Jr., pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in 2007.
Weeks before the 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.
On Oct. 16, 2006, FBI agents questioned Grimes and served her with two grand jury subpoenas for documents related to Weldon and her lobbying work. Grimes turned over some documents, but put some related to the investigation out to the trash at her home.
The FBI surreptitiously retrieved the trash bags, which included travel records, a ticket stub and RSVP cards for Weldon’s campaign events and check stubs from clients involved in the FBI investigation.
Grimes later put her BlackBerry in a trash can at an Arby’s after eating lunch there. Grimes told the judge she threw away the BlackBerry because she was worried her personal e-mails would end up in the news. But she also admitted in her plea agreement that she knowingly threw away e-mails stored on the device that the FBI would want.
Grimes’ attorney told the judge that the e-mails on the BlackBerry included messages between Grimes and Weldon. Prosecutors said they could recover most of the e-mails from the server.