Weller, Lewis Spend Big on Legal Fees

Posted January 25, 2008 at 6:29pm

Scandal-tinged Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) both paid substantial legal bills late last year, hinting that allegations of ethical lapses against them may not be winding down anytime soon.

Lewis, ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, paid the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher roughly $105,000 during the last quarter of 2007. The recent payments bring Lewis’ total legal bills during the past three years to roughly $1.27 million, according to campaign finance records.

Lewis is part of a grand jury investigation in Los Angeles involving former Rep. turned lobbyist Bill Lowery (R-Calif.). Investigators are looking into whether Lewis gave government handouts to clients of Lowery, a former partner at the lobbying shop Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White.

For Weller, last year’s fourth-quarter marks the first time since a Chicago Tribune investigative story about the Congressman’s business holdings broke that the lawmaker has made payments for legal advice. Weller, whose office declined to comment on the fees Friday, has paid the Washington, D.C., firm of Wiley Rein $172,000 since October for undisclosed legal fees.

Prior to last year’s fourth-quarter filing, Weller paid Wiley Rein about $35,000 for legal services in 2007.

In September 2007, the Tribune published an investigation into Weller’s Nicaraguan land deals. The piece suggest that Weller bought and sold several undisclosed beachfront properties while advocating the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Critics argued that the trade deal provided protections to Weller and other property investors.

Weller’s decision not to disclose the assets of his wife, Zury Rios Sosa, a member of the Guatemalan Congress and the daughter of a former ruling general in the country, also has come under scrutiny. Weller says he is unfamiliar with his finances, although his mother and brother sit on the board of a nonprofit group she established last summer.

The seven-term Congressman announced his decision to retire shortly after the Tribune article was published.

Reps. William Jefferson (D-La.), Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), John Doolittle (R-Calif.), Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) and other Members facing allegations of misconduct had not filed their year-end campaign finance statements as of Roll Call’s press time.