A Pennsylvania lobbyist was sentenced today to three years’ probation, including five months’ house arrest, and a $3,000 fine for destroying evidence related to the FBI’s investigation of a former congressman.
Cecilia Grimes pleaded guilty in July 2008 to charges that she had tossed away documents and her BlackBerry in 2006 after the FBI served her with two subpoenas in their investigation of then-Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.). At the time, federal agents were looking into the connection between Weldon and Grimes’ lobbying firm, particularly whether the congressman had supported appropriations requests from the firm’s clients in return for their paying extra “fees” to the lobbyists. Weldon has never been charged in the investigation.
But Grimes has since co-operated with investigators, in return for which Justice Department lawyers asked that she be given a relatively lenient sentence. Both the government’s lawyers and her defense attorney, Richard Scheff of Philadelphia's Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, pointed out that a few days after throwing away the evidence, she attempted to go back and retrieve it. It was gone, but she later tried to reproduce as many of the documents as possible.
Standing before Judge Henry Kennedy of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, a tear-choked Grimes said that she was sorry for what she had done and that she had acted in a state of panic.
But “panic” was not enough of an explanation for the judge. Throughout today’s sentencing hearing he continued to press her on why she had decided to destroy evidence.
“There were some personal things that didn’t have to do with this, that I didn’t want to hurt my family,” if they became public, she said finally. “That’s why.”
Grimes faced a maximum 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Kennedy emphasized that he was giving her a relatively light punishment, in part because of her cooperation, and in part because he believed the incident was an “aberration” in an otherwise law-abiding life.
But the judge added, “A reasonable person could argue that this punishment is too lenient.”