ACORN director fires organizer seen on tape -- Worker gave border-crossing advice to fake hooker, pimp
Union Tribune (2009-09-18) Eleanor Yang Su
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ACORN's local director yesterday fired the community organizer who was caught on video providing advice about crossing the border to a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute as part of a national sting.
Fox News aired a 52-second video Wednesday night showing the ACORN employee, Juan Carlos Vera, answering the couple's questions. They later said they were talking about young girls from El Salvador being brought over for a prostitution ring. One snippet showed Vera asking the woman how much her services cost.
At a news conference yesterday afternoon, David Lagstein, director of the ACORN office in National City, said he believed that his employee had done his best to deal with a challenging situation and would not be disciplined.
But two hours later, Lagstein said he had seen a seven-minute version of the video and decided that Vera's statements in the video contradicted what Vera had told him and were unacceptable.
Lagstein said he still considers the secret videotaping to be "unscrupulous" and part of a smear campaign designed to distract from the debate on health care reform.
"We're investigating the possibility of a lawsuit against the filmmakers," Lagstein said. "We know their conduct was immoral. We believe that their conduct was illegal."
With Vera's dismissal, Lagstein now oversees just one employee at the office. He estimates that his annual budget is about $200,000, raised through grass-roots fundraising and foundation and government grants. Walk-in services at the office have been temporarily stopped, as they have been at other ACORN offices across the country.
The national organization, which advocates for low- and middle-income families on housing, education and health issues, is conducting an independent investigation into the videos, which also snared employees in San Bernardino; Baltimore; Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Washington, D.C.
The videos were made by activist filmmaker James O'Keefe and are being posted at Big Government
Meanwhile, members of the House voted 345-75 yesterday to deny all federal funding for ACORN, with Democrats supplying all the "no" votes. The measure was sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista.
The Senate took similar action three days before.
In other developments, Republican Party leaders across the state called for county and state officials to conduct a forensic audit of ACORN's voter-registration efforts for the 2008 election.
ACORN, an acronym for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has been criticized by Republicans over allegations that its employees submitted false voter-registration forms in last year's presidential race.
"Unfortunately, it looks like ACORN is a tool for the left," Tony Krvaric, chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party, said yesterday when calling for the audit.
The California Attorney General's Office said it is following a request by the governor to investigate the videotapes made in San Bernardino and National City, but the surreptitious nature of the recordings complicates matters.
"As you know, California law requires there to be consent when you record somebody," said Scott Gerber, a spokesman for the attorney general. "We're going to look into it without fear or favor."
At the afternoon news conference, Vera, 39, offered a tearful recounting of the incident, saying he was confused during the conversation because English is not his native language. He said he later contacted a cousin who is a National City police detective, but did not file a report because he did not know the couple's names.
National City police did not return a call placed to confirm Vera's account.
"I never in my life do something wrong," said Vera, who has worked for ACORN for two years. "They destroy my family."
Lagstein said he believes that the office will eventually resume helping low- and middle-income families with foreclosure problems, tax filings and food-stamp applications.
"We apologize for any trust that's been broken, and we accept the imperfections it exposed," Lagstein said.
At a news conference, ACORN officials in National City defend their practices as "imperfect" and say the employee caught in the videos was "confused" and "doing his best to be helpful."
They later terminate the employee, stating that his comments made in the video contradict earlier statements and are unacceptable.
The Republican Party of San Diego, county Supervisor Bill Horn and the California Republican Party call on state and county election officials to audit all voter-registration cards submitted by ACORN before the last election.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, and others call on federal agencies to review grants, contracts and other forms of aid to ACORN and its affiliates.
Online: The complete National City ACORN video can be found at http://bit.ly/5rvXy
Credit: STAFF WRITER