Undercover reporting reveals corruption in ACORN
September 11, 2009 Two undercover journalists posed as a prostitute and a politically ambitious pimp used a hidden camera to uncover corruption at the Baltimore, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Brooklyn, New York offices of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. The employees at these offices advised the journalists on how to open a prostitution ring without paying taxes or letting the government know.
ACORN has three headquarter offices: Washington, D.C., New York, and New Orleans.
Undercover in Baltimore
The two journalists, Hannah Giles (20) and James O'Keefe (25), dressed up as a prostitute and a pimp, respectively, before entering the Baltimore ACORN office. They claimed to hope to open a prostitution ring in a house that ACORN would help them mortgage. Two women advised them on how to evade paying taxes, how to disguise the prostitution business, how to effectively hide underage El Salvadorian girls in the house and business over the course of the interview.
The ACORN representatives suggested that the prostitution ring be coded a "performing arts" business and that they could write off about $7,000 of the estimated $8,000-$9,000 monthly income for taxes.
Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La) says the videos show multiple incidents of tax fraud and called for a hearing to investigate the group's tax filing assistance programs.
Rep. Boustany said he is seeking a hearing of the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee in order to investigate ACORN’s activities.
The Washington Examiner reported that they “found that ACORN has received at least $53 million in federal money since 1994.”
Undercover in Washington, D.C.
Giles and O'Keefe went undercover again when visiting the Washington, D.C. ACORN office. They received much of the same advice from the employees there on how to successfully obtain a mortgage loan and open a prostitution business with underage illegal Central American girls kept as an illegal part of the business.
The workers offered advice, including a suggestion to create false a business name and pose as a consultant. They also pointed out that O'Keefe could buy the house and pose as the unaware landlord.
In Washington, D.C.'s ACORN office as well as in Baltimore's office, O'Keefe posed as a law student with political ambitions, hoping to use the money made from the prostitution business to fund a future campaign.
Terminated ACORN employees
Following the release of the video footage, ACORN fired the two employees from the Baltimore office and the two from the Washington, D.C. office.
On Friday, September 11, 2009, House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell called for an investigation into ACORN by the state's attorney general, Baltimore's state's attorney, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for Maryland.
Margaret Burns is the spokeswoman for the Baltimore's state's attorney's office. Burns said Friday that a law enforcement agency had to bring information about alleged crimes to the office. The YouTube video did not fulfill this requirement.
ACORN's President of Housing Alton Bennett and Executive Director Mike Shea released a statement saying they were "appalled and angry" at the video. Bennett and Shea said the video was "slanted to misinform the public about ACORN Housing" because the video does not mention that the undercover journalists went to at least five other ACORN Housing offices. At those offices they were either turned away or employees responded by calling police, they said.
During the hidden camera investigation, there were no loan documents completed, no bank loans arranged and no new business established.
"It is part of a long-term plan to smear ACORN Housing for political reasons and provide entertainment in the process," Bennett and Shea said. "But that does not excuse the behavior of the employees."
ACORN's attorney sent a letter to Fox News saying taking the video and broadcasting it violated secret recording laws and demanding it stop broadcasting the videos on air and the Internet in advance of litigation.
Fox News reported that the first video footage was made public Thursday on a political blog, BigGovernment.com.
Census Bureau cuts ACORN
On Friday, September 11, 2009, the Census Bureau severed ties with ACORN after the investigation broke.
The census director Robert Groves wrote in a letter to ACORN, The Associated Press.
“We do not come to this decision lightly,” wrote Groves.
There had been negative publicity, much of it from Republicans, suggesting the partnership with ACORN would taint the 2010 census. ACORN is one of 80,000 groups of unpaid volunteers that work with the bureau to raise awareness for the census.
“It is clear that ACORN’s affiliation with the 2010 census promotion has caused sufficient concern in the general public, has indeed become a distraction from our mission, and may even become a discouragement to public cooperation, negatively impacting 2010 census efforts,” Groves wrote.
Last year during the bureau's voter registration effort, some members of ACORN census volunteers were accused of submitting false registration forms, including one for a Mickey Mouse.
ACORN has said only a few employees submitted these false forms in an effort to increase their pay.
A few days after the investigation was released, a video showing Brooklyn ACORN workers offering the same kind of guidance.
O'Keefe and Giles again posed as a prostitute and a pimp looking for help to launder prostitution money while avoiding law enforcement detection. They went to the ACORN office under the pretense that they could get aid for a mortgage loan for the business.
"You have to find another name for it," an ACORN employee tells the pair. "Honesty is not going to get you the house. You can't say what you do for a living."
The hidden-camera video was shot on August 4, 2009 and released on BigGovernment.com on September 14, 2009.
"This is going to be her business, it's all cash," O'Keefe says. "She's gonna have this business in the house with a bunch of girls coming and doing these things, you know, performing tricks and she's gonna give me the money so I can pay the mortgage. That's how we want to work it potentially. But no one has to know where the money is coming from."
"No," an ACORN employee responds.
"You know, what goes on in the house, we don't care," an ACORN worker says. "We just help you with the mortgage."
An ACORN worker continues later, telling Giles to say she is a "freelancer" to establish a legitimate line of credit. The ACORN employee also says Giles should open multiple bank accounts in order to deposit no more than $500 per week. An ACORN employee in the office also suggested Giles hide her money in a tin buried beneath the home.
Bertha Lewis is the organization's chief organizer. On Saturday, Lewis released a statement that O'Keefe may have committed a felony during the investigation. She said she did not defend the Baltimore office former employees' actions. She threatened legal action against FOX News for airing the videos.
"It is clear that the videos are doctored, edited, and in no way the result of the fabricated story being portrayed by conservative activist 'filmmaker' O'Keefe and his partner in crime," Lewis said. "And, in fact, a crime it was — our lawyers believe a felony — and we will be taking legal action against Fox and their co-conspirators," she said.
Grant amendment proposal
Senator Johanns proposed an amendment, S.Amdt. 2355, in that would prevent further federal funding of ACORN. It is H.R. 3288 in the House of Representatives (also known as an amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010).
In the Senate vote, the vote concluded at 83 YAYs, 7 NAYs, and 9 that did not vote on September 14, 2009.
The NAYs were:
|Roland W. Burris||Democratic||Illinois|
|Robert P. Casey, Jr.||Democratic||Pennsylvania|
|Richard J. Durbin||Democratic||Illinois|
|Kirsten E. Gillibrand||Democratic||New York|
|Patrick J. Leahy||Democratic||Vermont|
|Sheldon Whitehouse||Democratic||Rhode Island|
Those who did not vote:
|Richard Burr||Republican||North Carolina|
|Robert C. Byrd||Democratic||West Virginia|
|Lindsey Graham||Republican||South Carolina|
|Judd Gregg||Republican||New Hampshire|
|Kay Bailey Hutchison||Republican||Texas|
|Barbara A. Mikulski||Democratic||Maryland|
The House of Representatives voted, in a 345-75 vote (with two voting "present"), to strike ACORN funding from the student aid bill. The 75 Representatives who voted "no" and two who voted "present" were all Democrats.
ACORN sues journalists
- Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
- "Republican Lawmakers Turn Up the Heat on ACORN," FoxNews, September 14, 2009
- "After Census Severs Ties, ACORN May Face Scrutiny of Housing Grants," FoxNews, September 12, 2009
- ↑ O'Keefe and ACORN
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 "Third Videotape Reveals ACORN Assisting 'Pimp,' 'Prostitute' in Brooklyn, N.Y.," FoxNews, September 14, 2009
- ↑ "ACORN got $53 million in federal funds since 94, now eligible for up to $8 billion more," Washington Examiner, September 14, 2009
- ↑ "Washington, DC ACORN Video: Child Prostitution Investigation," BigGovernment.com, September 11, 2009
- ↑ "ACORN fires 2 in DC after hidden-camera video," The Associated Press, September 11, 2009
- ↑ "Census Bureau Drops Acorn From 2010 Effort," New York Times, September 11, 2009
- ↑ "Pimp & Prostitute Expose Brooklyn ACORN Offices," NBC New York, September 14, 2009
- ↑ "ACORN Video: Prostitution Scandal in New York, NY" BigGovernment.com, September 14, 2009
- ↑ "House Votes to Strip Funding for ACORN," FOX News, September 17, 2009
- ↑ Suit papers
- ↑ "I.R.S. Severs Acorn Ties; Group Sues Over Video" The New York Times, September 23, 2009