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James O'Keefe (AP/Photo by Patrick Semansky)


Politics | ACORN looks to recoup its public image with James O'Keefe's arrest

WASHINGTON-When FBI agents arrested conservative activist James O'Keefe along with three of his friends as they attempted to tamper with the telephone lines in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's New Orleans office, Democrats weren't the only ones who were gleeful.

The Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN), recently disgraced by O'Keefe, saw an opportunity to discredit his unflattering videos of the organization's employees. ACORN President Bertha Lewis said in a statement that the arrest shows O'Keefe's "total disregard for the law" in "pursuit of his extremist agenda."

Lewis added, "From the day that O'Keefe's undercover 'sting' videos came out, ACORN leadership pledged accountability for its own staff while pointing out that the videos had been shot illegally and edited deceptively in order to undermine the work of an organization that has empowered working families for four decades. Unfortunately, during the rush to judge ACORN, both the media and Congress failed to question the methods, intent and accuracy of Mr. O'Keefe's videos."

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O'Keefe filmed undercover video in ACORN offices across the country posing as a pimp seeking to start a brothel, with sidekick Hannah Giles posing as a prostitute. The video showed ACORN employees who tried to help the duo get the right tax forms to start a brothel under the table on multiple occasions, suggesting widespread corruption in the organization. In one instance when O'Keefe mentioned that they would be using underage girls at the brothel, an employee pointed out that they could claim the girls as dependents on tax forms.

The videos prompted Congress last fall to block funds to the organization, which receives millions of federal dollars every year to help people get mortgages and file taxes. In December, a federal court ruled that Congress couldn't single out ACORN and block its funds "in the absence of a trial." The government has to honor its contracts with the organization and continue the flow of funds for now. Meanwhile ACORN sued O'Keefe and Giles for filming undercover.

For the Louisiana incident, O'Keefe and the three others face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of charges that they attempted to enter U.S. property "by false and fraudulent pretense . . . for the purpose of willfully and maliciously interfering with a telephone system operated and controlled by the United States of America."

According to witnesses in Landrieu's office building, two of O'Keefe's friends, Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan, arrived in the office claiming to be telephone repairmen, dressed in blue jeans, blue work shirts, fluorescent green vests, and white hard hats. O'Keefe was already in the office, telling staffers that he was waiting for someone, but admitted later to federal agents that he was recording Flanagan and Basel with his cell phone. After accessing the main office telephone, Flanagan and Basel asked to go to the main telephone system-there an employee asked for their identification, which they couldn't produce, leading to their arrest.

After his release on bond, O'Keefe posted on Twitter, "I am a journalist. The truth shall set me free." The 25-year-old has already admitted to federal agents to planning the ruse ahead of time with another friend, Stan Dai, and the other two have admitted to posing as telephone repairmen.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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