LEGAL QUESTIONS RAISED OVER LOCAL ACORN ALLEGATIONS

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By Miriam Raftery

Updated 11/25 8:45 p.m.

November 25, 2009 (El Cajon) – Surreptitious taping and dumpster diving are the latest tactics used by critics seeking to discredit a local chapter of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now;www.acorn.org), the largest national organization focused on advocating for the poor and disadvantaged. The latest revelations cast doubt not only on the actions of ACORN employees, but also raise questions over the legality of tactics used to obtain information. The controversy includes questions over the legality of surreptitious taping of an East County Democratic Club meeting in El Cajon, as well as questions over the propriety of actions taken in response by Club president Raymond Lutz.

 

A recording of local ACORN representative Dave Lagstein, taped during an East County Democratic Club meeting last month has been posted on Youtube (http://biggovernment.com/2009/11/10/exclusive-audio-from-acorn-claims-je...). In the tape, Lagstein refers to California Attorney General Jerry Brown as a “political animal” and adds that “the fault WILL be found with the people that did the video — not ACORN.” The poster suggested the commented indicated Brown may whitewash the investigation to favor ACORN.

 

That allegation was circulated via e-mail by San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric. "Californians are entitled to know that their Attorney General is conducting an honest, thorough, and unprejudiced inquiry into the very serious allegations of misconduct by Acorn," Krvaric stated in his e-mail. (Brown's office has assured that the investigation remains ongoing but has declined more specific comment on the controversy.)

 

ACORN’s Lagstein responded to Krvaric in a November 16 letter defending his statements. He notes that on October 1st, before ever meeting with the Attorney General or his staff, Lagstein expressed confidence to a San Francisco Chronicle reporter that “the investigation will show that the on ly crime committed was by the self-described conservative undercover videographers in illegally recording ACORN employees without their consent….I restated my position when I spoke to the East County Democratic Club on October 15,” he said, then reiterated his belief that the Attorney General’s investigation will include potential wrongdoing by undercover videographers.

 

Those videographers sent in actors posing as a pimp and prostitute to ACORN’s National City office. The clips show an ACORN employee offering advice including financial counseling and answering questions about how to get people across the U.S.-Mexico border. The employee in question later reported the incident to a police officer in his family, according to ACORN, which dismissed several employees as a result and has said it would revamp training and launch an independent review of its practices, while denying any legal wrongdoing. The video (
http://biggovernment.com/2009/09/17/acorn-video-prostitution-scandal-in-...)
caused a national stir that led to a cut-off of some federal funds for ACORN and other consequences.

 

The conservative website www.BigGovernment.com has claimed credit for the covert taping of the East County Democratic Club meeting, which was made at a Coco’s restaurant n October 15. But in an e-mail to East County Magazine, Lutz complained, “We did not record the meeting, and we stated that we were not recording it so it would not be taken out of context by anyone. Normally, it is illegal to record without consent.”

According to Terry Francke, legal counsel for Californians Aware,The Center for Public Forum Rights, California’s anti-taping law, Penal Code Section 632, bans covert taping by one party to a confidential communication, but excludes public gatherings.

 

“A Democratic Club meeting is presumably for members only and not a `public gathering,’” Francke told East County Magazine.

 

“Moreover when the presiding official at the meeting expressly assures speakers that they are not being recorded, it’s likely that a court would find that their expectation of a confined audience and no recording was reasonable.” Upon learning that the meeting was held in a restaurant, however, Francke added this caveat: “Unless that meeting was in a private banquet room, it may be that the president officer could not have realistically promised privacy since the speech might have been overheard (or recorded) from nearby tables or booths that were not part of the meeting.”

 

Lutz later confirmed that the meeting was held in a private banquet room—thus Francke’s contention that the taping was illegal would seem to apply.

 

Or does it?

 

In the latest twist, the conservative blog site SD Rostra has published a November 15 piece titled “Who Outed ACORN in East County?” (http://sdrostra.com/?p=1094) The piece states that Pat Sherman, a reporter from SD CityBeat recorded the meeting with full knowledge of the club’s officials. “I made it known I was there to write a story and was recording the presentation. The leak was not me,” said Sherman, according to the SD Rostra story.

 

“So Lutz was opposed to any recordings, short of the assumed friendly media outlet,” SD Rostra admonished, noting that Lutz, a former Assembly candidate, himself has recorded many public meetings and posted tapes online in his role as founder of Citizens Oversight, a government watchdog group.

 

However Lutz disputes the SD Rostra version of events, in an e-mail received by ECM this evening. "I asked Pat Sherman if he recorded the meeting and he said [he] did. I specifically said that no recordings would be allowed," he said, adding that Sherman "said that did not have time to discuss it. I am asking David Lagstein if he approved the recordings which Pat claims."

 

The SD Rostra’s piece further criticized Lutz for releasing to media the names of a Santee couple he suspected of infiltrating the meeting and posting the tape on YouTube. According to SD Rostra, the couple has denied the accusation. The piece further cites unnamed Club members disappointed with Lutz “heavy-handedness” in the incident.

 

 

In the latest round of controversy, Kvaric and private investigator Derrick Roach held a press conference this week to announce that Roach found large quantities of records discarded by ACORN in National City several days before a visit from the Attorney General’s office. (http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2009/nov/24/documents-are-found-acorn... )The investigator alleges that records included confidential personal data and further revealed a partisan agenda. ACORN has responded by stating that most of the records were outdated voter registration files and further, that removal of confidential records from its trash constitutes theft. ACORN has asked to have the records returned.

 

Lutz and other prominent Democrats have contended that the attacks on ACORN are politically motivated. Some prominent Obama supporters are associated with ACORN, which has also been a powerhouse at registering mostly-poor voters .

 

“ACORN should have shredded the papers,” Lutz acknowledged. But he added, “The Republicans want to make it sound like ACORN was trying to hide something. Wouldn’t they shred everything if that were the case?” He said he has reviewed the tape of political operatives posing as a pimp and prostitute. “ It is a case of hidden-camera play acting to create the impression that ACORN normally works with hookers and pimps, which they do not,” he said, adding that he did not believe any laws were broken by the employee shown in the video.

 

Lutz faulted media for focusing on controversies without also reporting ACORN’s positive actions to help the poor.  President Obama has drawn attention to ACORN's comunity organizing efforts, which aim to help low-income individuals in issues ranging from education to housing, also covering issues such as minimum wage increases and halting predatory lending pratices. (See "What is Acorn? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLCSnbN1lRI)

 

“Now, all we hear about is Republican money laundering, dumpster-diving, and playacting as hookers and pimps,” Lutz concluded. “ Jerry Brown should add this to his investigation of the local Republican Party.”

 


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Comments

ACORN's Mistake

ACORN's mistakes have been thoroughly aired and written about. However, ACORN's biggest mistake has been missed: The leaders of ACORN did not graduate from the big business schools, wear suits, have offices on Wall Street, sell bogus financial products, cause an international financial meltdown, and take billions of taxpayer dollars for which they have shown no accountability. Obviously, ACORN should learn from the captains of industry who really know how to be corrupt.

Acorn's mistakeS

So, Voter registration fraud, voter fraud, Using illegal means to register voters (Nevada),using tax payer money to finance partisan political activity, The seemingly universal willingness of ACORN employees to aid hookers and pimps set up an international child prostitution ring, get a house for it, help them falsify their taxes, hide money in a tin in the back yard, register phony businesses, smuggle human children across international borders, embezzle 1-5 million bucks from the organization, dump documents with their member's persona information on it with a wanton disregard for their privacy or their financial safety...Is somehow not enough for you to consider Acorn "Flawed"?

None of that seems to bother you much. I hope you are not one of my neighbors.

Xhristopherus' nonsenSe

I don't have time to debunk ALL of the nonsense in your comment, so allow me to hit just a couple of them.

What "voter fraud" have they carried out? (THe answer, is absolutely none). For that matter, what "voter registration fraud" has ACORN committed? The answer there is also "none", though they have had fraud committed against them by employees, which, when ACORN discovered it, they alerted officials. (That's how officials learned of the various false registrations). It would be akin to charging Walmart with "theft" when a handful of employees steal off the shelves from THEM and Walmart discovers it, and turns them into police, along with the evidence.

As to the nonsense of telling them how to "falsify their taxes", if you bother to actually read the transcripts, it's clear that ACORN employees told the two rightwingers they shouldn't be committing prostitution, gave the woman info on woman's shelters, and told them that if they INSISTED ON PAYING TAXES FOR THEIR ILLEGAL ENTERPRISE, here was how they could do it.

I guess they could have told them to NOT pay taxes (which actually would have been tax fraud), but they told them how TO pay taxes, even on the (non-existent, but) ill-gotten gains of prostitution.

Other than that, yes, ACORN should be punished however possible, but Halliburton, Blackwater and all the rest who have been found guilty of millions (billions?) of tax-payer dollar fraud, charged with homicide, death of U.S. troops, rape, false imprisonment, etc. should continue receiving more federal funding each day than ACORN has received in their entire existence.

Yeesh. Get your priorities straight, people. Or, just serve as the wingnut tools for the partisan hacks who have played you all for chumps.

I don't understand why you don't understand

Ms Raftery: Do you not care that ACORN employee David Lagstein used a corporate credit card to spend over NINE THOUSAND dollars at a fertility clinic? Do you not understand that the PI found people's personal information in the dumpster? I am flabbergasted that anyone would focus on how the PI obtained the information instead of commenting on the information that ACORN put in the dumpster. I'm at such a loss for words right now because I can not understand why anyone would include criticism of the PI without discussing the contents of the ACORN trash.

Our story DID include that info along with a link

to where people could read more details on documents found in the dumpster.

Because we are East 

County Magazine, we focused mainly on the East County angle to this story, not the broader national picture which has been widely publicized elsewhere. 

With all due respect, I would

With all due respect, I would think that since David Lagstein addressed the East County Democratic Club that you would also mention the fact that one of the receipts in the trash was allegedly his payment to a fertility clinic. Aren't there any ACORN members in East County that would be interested in knowing that Lagstein may have used $9000 of member's dues like this?

FriedWords....

At the time I posted our initial story only sketchy details of the dumpster incident were available - not details on most of the documents which have since emerged. That is a fair questio for donors or board members of Acorn to look into, not to mention investigators.

Real Issues

It would appear that most media is concerned with shooting the messengers and not taking note of the message.

Let's make it simple:

ACORN IS CORRUPT

Acorn disregards Election laws in numerous states ( perhaps all of them). Acorn disregards the privacy of it's members and those it purports to help. Documents simply thrown in dumpsters with persona info violates so many laws we can't count them here.

Acorn does not comply with Federal or State laws (election laws in Nevada, Florida, California, Ohio etc) on so many levels. Acorn housing does not, nor Acorn voter registration, which only registers people as democrats.

Tax money is being spent to support a partisan power grabbing agenda.

I am a conservative Libertarian, I swear on my mother's grave that I would not tolerate this type of corruption from a conservative organization. For me that would be even worse. When conservatives are breaking laws, I root for the news organizations that out them.

The Media (The fourth estate) was supposed to be an independent watchdog, what it has become is a propaganda machine for partisan interests. This includes Andrew Breitbart and Big Government, Drudge etc. At least they are not pretending to be non-partisan arbiters of justice

More nonsense from Xhristopherus

"I am a conservative Libertarian, I swear on my mother's grave that I would not tolerate this type of corruption from a conservative organization."

Okay. So where is your outrage for the firm hired by the GOP to run voter registration in CA, the owner of whom actually PLED GUILTY to voter registration fraud this year (not his employees, but him!)

Did I miss your outrage on that? Are you even aware of it??

"For me that would be even worse. When conservatives are breaking laws, I root for the news organizations that out them."

So please share your rooting for the arrest of those responsible for what the GOP voter registration firm did -- not its employees, but the actual firm itself -- in CA.

And when you're done, I'll look forward to your evidence backing up this: "Acorn voter registration, which only registers people as democrats." Really? Evidence for that? Or you just get to make things up. Because I can show actual evidence for a number of GOP firms actually changing registrations themselves from D to R, tricking Ds into signing docs that changed their registration (telling them it was a petition for a kids cancer hospital), and actually SHREDDING Dem registrations.

You've been hoaxed, Xhristopherus. Played by GOP conmen who have no interest in "libertarian" anythings.

I'll also look forward to all that evidence of ACORN "not comply[ing] with Federal or State laws" in all of those state's you mention. Didn't happen boss. Sorry.

CA investigation into ACORN seems corrupt

Lots of moaning about the event being taped. Let's look at the real issues.


REAL ISSUE #1: How is ACORN spending state and federal tax money? Are ACORN's actions legal? Moral? Does ACORN comply with tax exempt status laws? Can ACORN's actions stand the scruitiny of public examination? Do the taxpayers want taxpayer money going to an organization that helps people cheat on their taxes . . . helps people set up businesses to entrap children in prostitution? Do we? Really?


REAL ISSUE #2: How can the California Attorney General conduct a fair investigation when he is implicated with a predetermined interest in the outcome? Mr Brown wants to be governor. His relationship with ACORN seems too cozy as he begins a campaign. No matter how Mr. Brown rules on the ACORN videos and ACORN actions, Mr. Brown will not be believed. Time for an independent investigator . . . with power to indite.


We the Citizens need confidence in our government. As of now . . it seems corrupt.

"OpenToPublic"

Miriam,



Regarding your piece, 'Legal Questions Raised Over Local Acorn Allegations'
(http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/2315), please check the link to the public announcement of the East County Democratic Club
(http://www.copswiki.org/w/bin/view/Events/E00077).



In the announcement of the event featuring speaker David Lagstein, it states clearly: 'Policy Open To Public, Free.'



The very clear "Policy Open To Public, Free" language is then linked to another page
(http://www.copswiki.org/w/bin/view/Events/OpenToPublic)where it even more clearly states,
"Open to the Public: Meetings held at public venues such as Libraries must be open to the public."



At the bottom of the page we see who agreed to or submitted this language: "Topic revision: r1 - 2009-06-26 - 04:48:38 - Raymond Lutz"



So you see, the desire for Mr. Lutz to turn something public to something private is only natural, but a quick Internet search undermines his ass-saving effort.



Per Lutz's spin, “ It is a case of hidden-camera play acting to create the impression that ACORN normally works with hookers and pimps, which they do not." I don't think James O'Keefe's intention was to show that ACORN works with hookers and pimps but that its workers are quick to aid and abet criminal activity and understand the vernacular and means of rigging the welfare (housing, food stamps, etc.) and tax systems (tax evasion).



So far in 7 of 8 ACORN offices (and there's more) from sea to shining sea, the employees, without batting their eyes, go to great lengths with 'Employee of the Month' gusto to figure out how to help the purported criminal. In San Diego, the employee proactively offered to help the underage prostitutes from El Salvador over the border.



And the legality of filmmakers, not their own criminally minded employees, are who ACORN is worried about?



There is another side to the story. So far Big Government has told the truth and every step of the way, and ACORN has lied.



Lagstein and Lutz seem to be in a similar mindset thinking it can spin the unspinnable and hope no one notices.



Otherwise, I found your piece to be quite informative.



Best,

Andrew Breitbart

Publisher of BigGovernment.com

Thanks Andrew.

Without guys like you the Liberal media would still have a stranglehold on the information we consume. The NYT would determine for the rest of us what news is "Fit to print". I don't think LBJ could have shoved the "Great Society" down our throats in the internet era, nor would Roosevelt have gotten away with the New Deal. The two greatest crimes the government has ever visited on the taxpayers.