Investigation confirms: No evidence of illegal actions by ACORN in videographer scam

››› ››› TERRY KREPEL, MATT GERTZ, JOCELYN FONG & ERIC SCHROECK

After media outlets and figures have repeatedly claimed that videos released by conservative activists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles revealed a pattern of ACORN aiding efforts to evade taxes on a fictitious child-prostitution ring, an investigation by former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger (D) found that "there is no evidence that action, illegal or otherwise, was taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers." Indeed, an analysis of those incidents by Media Matters for America indicates that in at least six of the eight videos released, ACORN employees at those offices either were not clearly informed that underage prostitutes were involved, refused to help, appeared to deliberately respond with wildly over-the-top statements, or contacted the police after Giles and O'Keefe had left; moreover, ACORN employees at at least two of the offices advised Giles to file tax returns.

Media report pair received advice on tax evasion for child prostitution ring "at ACORN offices around the country"

LA Times: Giles received "advice on tax evasion, human smuggling and child prostitution" at "ACORN offices around the country." In a November 15 article, the Los Angeles Times reported that Giles "shot onto the national scene in September after posing as a prostitute at ACORN offices around the country, where she secretly videotaped employees who appeared to give her advice on tax evasion, human smuggling and child prostitution."

Hannity and Giles suggested many ACORN offices were "willing to aid and abet underaged prostitution." On the November 16 edition of his Fox News program, Sean Hannity and Giles had the following exchange (retrieved from the Nexis database):

HANNITY: So why did you feel that you wanted to come out here and show this part of the tape that actually showed an ACORN employee at least seemingly wanting to do the right thing? Why is that important to the setup for part two later this week?

GILES: You know, it's the truth. It's part of our story. It's like we did a science experiment. We went around the country testing out this hypothesis, this pimp and prostitute scenario, and this is one that didn't follow the rest of them.

HANNITY: Of all ...

GILES: The other ones that showed ...

HANNITY: Go ahead.

GILES: Of all the ones showed ACORN as a corrupt organization willing to aid and abet underaged prostitution, Felix in L.A., part one, is the only guy who didn't fall for that.

HANNITY: Yes, which is the interesting part.

Coulter: "You have ACORN encouraging and counseling" activists "how to avoid taxes, how to bring Salvadorian sex slaves into the country, underage girls." On the October 1 edition of Hannity, Ann Coulter stated (from Nexis):

COULTER: Right. I mean, I think that story, to avoid the squid ink of the left claiming that this is an anti-homosexual thing tell the same story where it's a girl who's having sex with an adult man in a bathroom in a bus stop. I mean, that's the point here. And I liked your list at the beginning of all the problems Obama's had with the czars and appointees and Cabinet nominees.

But I have a slightly different list. You have ACORN encouraging and counseling these two, well, actors, as it turns out, how to avoid taxes, how to bring Salvadorian sex slaves into the country, underage girls. You have all of Hollywood and media elites defending Roman Polanski for anally raping a 13-year-old.

Harshbarger assessment: "[W]e did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff"

In his December 7 "Independent Governance Assessment of ACORN," Scott Harshbarger, who was hired by ACORN to conduct an inquiry in part into the videos, wrote:

While some of the advice and counsel given by ACORN employees and volunteers was clearly inappropriate and unprofessional, we did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff; in fact, there is no evidence that action, illegal or otherwise, was taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers. Instead, the videos represent the byproduct of ACORN's longstanding management weaknesses, including a lack of training, a lack of procedures, and a lack of on-site supervision.

Claims that videos show many ACORN offices willing to aid child prostitution are false

Giles and O'Keefe have released heavily edited videos of their encounters at eight ACORN or ACORN Housing offices. In least six of those instances, either the activists did not clearly tell the ACORN employees that they were planning to engage in child prostitution; or the ACORN employees refused to help them or apparently deliberately misled them; or ACORN employees contacted the police following their visit.

Washington, D.C., office: Child prostitution not clearly discussed. At no point in the transcript of Giles and O'Keefe's visit to the Washington, D.C., ACORN office does either Giles or O'Keefe clearly state that they are planning to engage in child prostitution. Both Giles (Page 15) and O'Keefe (Page 9) say that the house will be used by "girls" -- who the ACORN employee refers to as "women of the night" -- and at one point, O'Keefe says (Page 13) that "10 El Salvadorians" will be working in the house, but at no point are the ages of the supposed prostitutes mentioned.

New York office: Child prostitution not clearly discussed: In the transcript of Giles and O'Keefe's visit to the New York ACORN office, they discuss underage girls that Giles wants to "protect" and separately discuss "girls" working in the house, but they do not indicate that the two groups are the same. O'Keefe says that Giles "is going to have this business in the house with a bunch of girls coming and doing these things, performing tricks and she is going to give me the money so that I can pay the mortgage" (Page 15) but does not say that those "girls" are underage. Much later, Giles states, "They should throw Sonny in jail, not me, he's the one who got me started. ... I mean he got a whole slew of which is why I also want a house. ... He's got all these 13, 14, 15 year old girls from El Salvador and that's what -- I need to protect them like I know what its like and I have to protect them and like give them somewhere to live" (Page 28). The videos posted on YouTube are nevertheless titled "ACORN NYC Child Prostitution Investigation."

Hannity, Lowry similarly referred to presumably of-age prostitutes as "girls." While Giles and O'Keefe refer to the prostitutes who would reside in the house as "girls" in the Washington, D.C., and New York videos, conservative media figures such as Hannity -- who repeatedly touted the videos -- have similarly referred to prostitutes in that manner regardless of their age. The July 3, 2006, and December 16, 2005, edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes featured Hannity's interviews with presumably adult prostitutes, whom Hannity repeatedly referred to as "girls." Likewise, guest-hosting the July 27, 2007, edition of Hannity & Colmes, Rich Lowry referred to "part two of Sean's attempt to Hannitize the girls of Reno's Bunny Ranch." [from Nexis]

San Bernardino: ACORN employee tries to "shock them as much as they were shocking me." In the video of Giles and O'Keefe's visit to the San Bernardino ACORN office, ACORN organizer Tresa Kaelke gives them advice on how to run a brothel and also informs them that she murdered her ex-husband. During the evening on September 15, ACORN issued a statement calling the video of O'Keefe and Giles' interactions with Kaelke an "obvious set of lies and manipulations." Kaelke stated of the conservative activists who filmed her: "They were not believable. ... Somewhat entertaining, but they weren't even good actors. I didn't know what to make of them. They were clearly playing with me. I decided to shock them as much as they were shocking me. Like Stephen Colbert does -- saying the most outrageous things with a straightface." In a September 15 news release, the San Bernardino Police Department stated that Kaelke's claim that she shot and killed her ex-husband "do[es] not appear to be factual."

Los Angeles: ACORN employee refused to help them after they mentioned child prostitution. In a blog post accompanying video of Giles and O'Keefe's visit to the Los Angeles ACORN Housing office, O'Keefe reports that the ACORN employee "drew the line when we spoke about the underage girls" and "would not assist us."

Philadelphia: ACORN employee contacted police following visit. ACORN has publicly released a July 24 Philadelphia police report stating that an ACORN employee complained to police that O'Keefe had created a "verbal disturbance" at ACORN's office.

San Diego: ACORN employee contacted police following visit. In a September 22 article, the Associated Press reported that National City, California, police said an ACORN worker contacted them about "possible human smuggling" after his interactions with Giles and O'Keefe.

In DC and NY offices, ACORN employees advised O'Keefe and Giles to file taxes

Washington, D.C.: Employee tells Giles, "You need to file taxes every year." According to the transcript of O'Keefe and Giles' video at the Washington, D.C., ACORN office, an employee told Giles, "You need to file taxes every year to establish an income." After Giles asked, "[I]s there a way I can make up two years of tax returns?" the employee responded, "No you can't make it up. The guidelines are too tight."

New York: Employee tells O'Keefe and Giles that they "have to file taxes." According to transcript posted on BigGovernment.com, an employee at the ACORN office in New York told O'Keefe and Giles that they "have to file taxes" and that they would "have to have at least two years taxes" to qualify for a loan.

O'Keefe, Giles claimed that Giles was being "abused" by her "pimp"

According to the video and transcripts, Giles and O'Keefe repeatedly portrayed Giles to ACORN employees as a prostitute who was trying to escape an abusive pimp.

New York office: "[S]he was working for this pimp who's been very abusive." During the visit to the New York ACORN office, O'Keefe said: "Well, the reason why we're rushing is because she was working for this pimp who's been very abusive. And that's why we want to set up an independent -- you know, a business, because this guy is coming after her. And that's why we are in a rush, you know, that's why I'm excited. And I know nothing about her business. I'm just trying to be here, be professional because, you know, she walks in and -- we have this pimp who's discriminating against us. That's why we're in a rush." Giles added: "He's really aggressive towards me ever since I met him and because I wanted to leave, and because it's scary being subjected to a huge man who has control over your life." [Transcript, Page 17; audio clip 1, 24:08]

Baltimore office: "[R]ight now, we've got this guy who she's been working for, very abusive, OK?" During the visit to the Baltimore office, O'Keefe said: "Now, the other thing we have to deal with is, right now, we've got this guy who she's been working for, very abusive, OK? And this guy has been giving us a lot of problems." [Transcript, Page 14; audio, 17:27]

Philadelphia office: "We talked about the abusive pimp and the new prostitution business." In a voiceover for the video highlighting sections of their visit to the Philadelphia office, O'Keefe said: "We talked about the abusive pimp and the new prostitution business." This was followed in the video by O'Keefe saying to the ACORN employee: "And we don't want to have anything to do with that guy. I'm trying to, at least -- if not straighten her out, give her her own business, where she doesn't have to be beholden to that guy." [Video, 2:44]

Washington office: "[O]ne guy in particular who was abusive and very controlling." During the visit to the Washington, D.C., office, Giles said: "I'm kind of afraid to make any, 'cause ever since I met him, I left a group of people and one guy in particular who was abusive and very controlling, and ever since I've left, he's follows me and there's problems, and I feel if there's more paper, he'll somehow get ahold of that, and I might end up dead, and then I won't be around." [Transcript, Page 11; audio, 23:45]

San Bernardino: "[T]he pimp has really, like, beat her up." During the visit to the San Bernardino office, Giles said: "I'm having problems making money because I decided to rebel against my pimp, and so he's got something out against me. ... So, he's -- I've kind of rebelled, paid the price physically for that, you know, as far as money goes also." O'Keefe added: "She's also -- she's also gotten -- the pimp has really, like, beat her up." [Transcript, Page 7; audio, 6:12]

Los Angeles: "I had a scrape on my back from two weeks ago." During the visit to the Los Angeles office, O'Keefe said: "He's actually living in San Bernardino, the pimp. He's a little bit -- yeah, but he's tripped you and --" Giles added: "I had a scrape on my back from two weeks ago." [Video]

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James O'Keefe, Hannah Giles
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